Christopher H Contag

Hannah Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, Department of Microbiology, Genetics, & Immunology
Chairperson, Department of Microbiology, Genetics, & Immunology
Prof, J & K Cornelius Chair, Department of Microbiology, Genetics, & Immunology
Faculty, Cell & Molecular Biology Program
Location: 1042 775 Woodlot Dr Room 1042
Profile photo of  Christopher H Contag
Photo of: Christopher H Contag


James & Kathleen Cornelius Chair

Dr. Contag joined Michigan State University in 2017 as the founding director of the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering (IQ) and the inaugural chair of the new Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering. He is also a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Dr. Contag received his B.S. in Biology from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul in 1982. He received his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in 1988, where he did his dissertation research on the topic of viral infections of the central nervous system. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University from 1990-1994 in the Department of Microbiology where he studied mother-to-infant transmission of HIV, and then joined the faculty in Pediatrics at Stanford in 1995 with a joint appointment in Microbiology and Immunology and courtesy appointments in Bioengineering and Radiology. Dr. Contag served as the Associate Chief of the Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, the director of Stanford’s Center for Innovation in In Vivo Imaging (SCI3) and co-director of both the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford (MIPS) and Child Health Research Institute (CHRI) at Stanford University. Dr. Contag has developed and used noninvasive imaging approaches to reveal molecular processes in living subjects, to understand host pathogen interactions, to advance diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for cancer, and to reveal the nuances of stem cell engraftment and expansion. His work with extracellular vesicles (EVs), exosomes and microvessicles, has focused on their biological and diagnostic relevance as well as engineering EVs as drug delivery systems. Dr. Contag is a founding member, and past president of the Society for Molecular Imaging (now part of WMIS) and recent past president and a Fellow of WMIS. For his fundamental contributions in the field of molecular imaging, he was awarded the Achievement Award from the Society for the Molecular Imaging. For his fundamental contributions to the field of optics he was awarded the Britton Chance Award from the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). Dr. Contag was a founder of Xenogen Corp., now part of PerkinElmer, a company with the mission of commercializing in vivo bioluminescence and fluorescence imaging, and is a founder of BioEclipse Inc., a company aimed at improving cancer immunotherapy, and a founder of PixelGear, a point-of-care pathology company.

B.S., 1982, College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota
Ph.D., 1988, University of Minnesota, Department of Microbiology
Postdoctoral Fellow, 1988-1989, University of Minnesota, Department of Microbiology
Postdoctoral Fellow, 1990-1995, School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

The Contag laboratory develops macroscopic and microscopic optical imaging tools and uses imaging to assess tissue responses to stress, reveal immune cell migration patterns, understand stem cell biology and advance biological therapies. The research mission of the Contag laboratory is to develop and use noninvasive imaging tools that can simultaneously reveal the nuances of biological processes and provide an overall picture of disease states for the purpose of developing and refining novel interventions. These tools are being applied to examine the close relationships between cancer and the immune system. Chronic inflammation often precedes progression to cancer, and this suggests that signals from immune cells may initiate, drive, and/or maintain a predisposition to cancer and mediate its progression. Identifying the molecular mediators of the changes that precede progression to cancer in otherwise histologically normal cells and tissues would lead to new therapeutic targets that would enable disease prevention in high-risk populations including relapse from treated cancers. Among the various signals produced by immune cells, extracellular vesicles are the most complex, and perhaps the most nonspecific, implicating them in the disease process. We are examining the role of extracellular vesicles from activated immune cells, and cancer cells, in creating premalignant fields, and characterizing the molecular signals that precondition normal tissues and drive malignant transformation. Uncovering the molecular mechanisms of premalignancy and the signals that convert these cells to cancer lies at the foundation of cancer biology and will impact the diagnosis, treatment and management of all cancers. In addition, since the imaging tools we develop are sensitive and image over a range of scales from micro- to macroscopic, and are well-suited for the in vivo study of cellular and molecular biology, we are developing, and using, advanced microscopic tools with the aims of detecting and studying cancer at high resolution in vivo. These approaches use micro-optics to develop miniaturized confocal microscopes and Raman endoscopes that can reach inside the human body to interrogate disease states. This is enabling point-of-care microscopy that is changing the diagnostic paradigm from biopsy and histopathology to in vivo pathology. The opportunity to study tumor margins with arrays of microscopes will enable improved tumor detection and guided resections.


  • MMG 499: Undergraduate Research