A University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor has turned his research into a startup company.

Stephen DiMagno, a professor of chemistry at UNL, started research in 2005 into substances used in medical imaging.

DiMagno found a general way to attach the radioactive isotope 18F, widely used in positron emission tomography, to many different carrier molecules. This isotope is a beacon that allows the specific metabolic fates of the compounds to be viewed by a PET scanner. Unlike most stable drugs, PET imaging agents tagged with short-lived radioactive isotopes such as 18F lose their effectiveness after only a few hours. As a result, these imaging agents need to be produced rapidly and near a hospital or imaging center where they are used.

"Our methodology allows us to create more potent imaging agents more rapidly, reliably and in high yield. These agents were previously unknown or were very difficult to synthesize," DiMagno said in a news release.

NUtech Ventures, the nonprofit organization responsible for building partnerships between the University of Nebraska and the private sector, evaluated the commercial opportunity and licensed the intellectual property to Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company co-founded by DiMagno and Boston-based physician, scientist and attorney Allan Green, for development.

"Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals' technology should boost the availability of existing experimental PET agents and support the more efficient development of new PET imaging agents," DiMagno said

The company also may help expand the types of diseases that PET scans can diagnose, leading to more effective treatments and better management for these disorders. The company's technology is expected to produce an equivalent imaging signal from lower doses of PET pharmaceuticals than is possible using current methods, DiMagno said, which could reduce the risk of side effects and significantly lower costs to patients and insurance companies.

Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals is working with NUtech Ventures, several academic medical centers and manufacturers of imaging agents to advance commercialization.

"We knew this technology had significant potential based on initial assessments by industry experts," said David Conrad, executive director of NUtech Ventures. "By matching Dr. DiMagno's scientific expertise with Dr. Green's knowledge of medical imaging and the FDA regulatory environment, Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals is well positioned to make a big impact in medical imaging."

DiMagno was the lead on one of 23 teams nationwide to receive an inaugural National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) grant in late 2011. The grant provided the team access to national experts on technology startups and additional training in the latest concepts in entrepreneurial management.

Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals will house its research and development facility in Lincoln. The company will also have an office in Cambridge, Mass.