Dr. Zhao, an Associate Professor of Radiology, has extensive experience in in vivo non-invasive MRI and optical imaging in studying tumor biomarkers and correlating imaging data with tumor pathophysiology and therapeutic response. Dr. Zhao’s research is currently focusing on development of brain tumor-targeted nanoplatform to facilitate multi-imaging modalities for molecular diagnosis and image-guided delivery of nanoformulated anti-cancer drugs to treat the devastating brain cancers. To surmount the blood brain barrier (BBB), Dr. Zhao’s lab has recently developed a highly specific nanoplatform that binds to tumor vascular luminal surface-exposed phosphatidylserine (PS) of malignant brain tumors, but not to normal brain blood vessels. Without a need to cross the BBB, PS-targeted nanoencapsulated imaging contrast or drugs become subsequently internalized into tumor cells. Utilizing this highly specific brain tumor-targeted nanoplatform, Dr. Zhao proposes a novel approach to introduce both therapeutic and imaging contrast agents into the same nanostructure, allowing MRI to monitoring the delivery and release of anti-cancer drugs to brain tumors based on dynamic change in imaging contrast. Benefited from his initial training in medical school and cancer biology during his PhD, Dr. Zhao has diverse interests in cancer research ranging from microscopic histology to animal models and in vivo multimodal imaging techniques. Dr. Zhao’s research has been continually supported by extramural funding from both NIH and DOD cancer research. 




Medical School
Dalian Medical University (1991), Medicine
Graduate School
University of Tsukuba - ? (1998)

Research Interest

  • Development of cancer-targeted multifunctional theranostic nanoparticles to enable the delivery and release of effective anti-cancer drug monitored by in vivo multimodal imaging.
  • In vivo imaging of tumor microenvironment, e.g., vasculature and hypoxia, by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and optical imaging.
  • Investigate genetic and epigenetic factors associated with tumor aggressiveness by correlating molecular and immunohistological study with in vivo imaging.


Featured Publications LegendFeatured Publications

In vivo near-infrared spectroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging monitoring of tumor response to combretastatin A-4-phosphate correlated with therapeutic outcome.
Zhao D, Chang CH, Kim JG, Liu H, Mason RP Int. J. Radiat. Oncol. Biol. Phys. 2011 Jun 80 2 574-81
A perspective on vascular disrupting agents that interact with tubulin: preclinical tumor imaging and biological assessment.
Mason RP, Zhao D, Liu L, Trawick ML, Pinney KG Integr Biol (Camb) 2011 Apr 3 4 375-87

Honors & Awards

  • DOD Prostate Cancer Research Initiative Postdoctoral Fellowship Award

Professional Associations/Affiliations

  • World Molecular Imaging Society (2009)
  • International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) (2002)