Polymer-shelled Ultrasound Contrast Agents : Characterization and Application
Abstract: Ultrasound-based imaging technique is probably the most used approach for rapid investigationand monitoring of anatomical and physiological conditions of internal organs and tissues.Ultrasound-based techniques do not require the use of ionizing radiation making the tests anexceptionally safe and painless. Operating in the frequency range between 1 to 15 MHz, medicalultrasound provides reliable visual and quantitative information from both superficial structuressuch as muscles and tendons, and also deeper organs such as liver and kidney. From the technicalpoint of view medical ultrasound has a good spatial and temporal resolution. Ultrasound machineis mobile or even portable, which makes it truly bedside modality. And last but not the least,ultrasound investigations are cheaper in comparison to other real time imaging techniques.Ultrasound imaging techniques can be greatly improved by the use of contrast agents to enhancethe signal from the area of interest (e.g. cardiac or liver tissues) relative to the background.Typically ultrasound contrast agent (UCA) is a suspension of the microbubbles consisting of agas core encapsulated within the solid shell. Generally these devices are injected systemically andfunction to passively enhance the ultrasound echo. In recent years, the UCAs have evolved frombeing just a visualization tool to become a new multifunctional and complex device for drug orgene therapy and targeted imaging.The overall objective of the project is to test novel polymer shelled microbubbles (MBs) as apossible new generation of ultrasound contrast agents.During the first year of the project an innovative criterion based on cross-correlation analysis toassess the pressure threshold at which ultrasonic waves fracture the polymer shell of microbubblehas been developed. In addition, acoustic properties of these microbubbles which are relevant totheir use both as contrast agents and drug carriers for localized delivery have been preliminarytested. Furthermore, in order to reconstruct viscoelastic properties of the shell the originalChurch’s model (1995) has been implemented. In collaboration with Karolinska Institutet, imagesof the microbubbles have been acquired with conventional imaging system. These imagesdemonstrate the potential of the novel polymer-shelled microbubbles to be used as contractenhancing agents.The objective of the second year was to describe the acoustic and mechanical properties ofdifferent types of microbubbles synthesised under varied conditions. This task was divided in twointerrelated parts. In the first part acoustic characterization has been completed in low intensityregion with the study of backscattered power, attenuation and phase velocity. In order torecalculate mechanical properties of the shell existing theoretical model has been furtheriimodified to accommodate the frequency dependence of viscoelastic properties andsimultaneously fit the attenuation and phase velocity data. The results concerning acoustic andmechanical properties of the microbubbles have been sent as a feedback to the manufacture inorder to optimize fabrication protocol for effective image acquisition. In the second part acousticcharacterization has been performed in high intensity region under varied parameters ofexperimental set-up. The results that illustrate the dependence of the fracture pressure thresholdon the system parameters allows us to discuss the potential role of polymer-shelled UCAs as drugcarriers and formulate the protocol for save, localized, cavitation-mediated drug delivery.For the third year the major task was to move on from the bulk volume in vitro tests towards themicrocapillary study and even further to incorporate the microcapillary into the tissue mimickingultrasound phantom. The last study has the objective to take into account the wave propagationthrough tissue. And last but not the least, the application of the polymer-shelled microbubblesfor evaluation of perfusion characteristics, i.e. capillary volume and velocity of the flow, has beenperformed. Similar tests are carried out with commercially available phospholipid-shelled UCA.Using destruction/replenishment technique it is suggested that the novel polymer-shelledmicrobubbles have a potential for a more accurate perfusion evaluation compared to that ofcommercially available phospholipid-shelled UCA.In conclusion, proposed polymer-shelled gas-core microbubbles provide a viable system to beused among the next generation of ultrasound contrast agents, which facilitate not only imageenhancement relevant to diagnostics but also localized and specific drug delivery for non-invasivetherapy even in acute conditions.
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