Ultrasound Microbubbles: A Revolution in Medical Treatment

by Klaus Müller
ultrasound microbubbles

A significant breakthrough study has showcased the ability to control ultrasound-driven microbubbles within the brain’s blood vessels. This innovative technique offers a focused, minimally invasive method to address brain diseases, including tumors and mental health disorders, potentially minimizing the adverse effects typically associated with drugs. Source: SciTechPost.com

Researchers from ETH Zurich have successfully demonstrated, for the first time, the steering of microvehicles through brain blood vessels in mice using ultrasound. This advancement opens the door to the precise delivery of medications.

The team at ETH Zurich has developed a technique over recent years to maneuver microvehicles using ultrasound, now proven effective in the brain. These microvehicles, essentially harmless gas bubbles that dissolve post-mission, could in the future carry drugs directly to targeted brain areas, enhancing drug effectiveness and reducing side effects.

Treating conditions such as brain tumors, hemorrhages, and various neurological and psychological issues is challenging with medication, often leading to significant side effects due to the drugs affecting the entire brain. With this new research, there’s optimism for a more localized drug delivery system, employing mini-transporters navigable through the brain’s intricate network of blood vessels.

The collaboration of ETH Zurich, the University of Zurich, and the University Hospital Zurich marks the first instance of guiding microvehicles through an animal’s brain vessels via ultrasound.

The brain’s complex blood supply makes this a challenging endeavor. Credit: Science Photo Library / Francis Leroy

Ultrasound vs. Magnetism

Ultrasound, compared to magnetic field-based navigation, offers notable advantages. Professor Daniel Ahmed of ETH Zurich, a leading figure in the study, notes ultrasound’s safety and deep body penetration as significant benefits.

For this purpose, Ahmed and his team utilized lipid-coated, gas-filled microbubbles, mirroring biological cell membranes. These microbubbles, about 1.5 micrometers in diameter, are already employed in ultrasound imaging as contrast agents.

Benefits of Ultrasound-Controlled Microbubbles

These microbubbles can navigate through blood vessels, as demonstrated by the researchers. “These vesicles, already approved for human use, likely mean our technology will gain approval and application in human treatments faster than other developing microvehicles,” Ahmed states, having received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council ERC in 2019 for this project.

Imagery of brain blood vessels with microvehicle clusters in orange (microscopy image). Credit: Del Campo Fonseca et al., Nature Communications 2023, edited by ETH Zurich

Another advantage is the microbubbles’ dissolution in the body after completing their task. In contrast, magnetic navigation requires biodegradable magnetic microvehicles, which are challenging to develop. The ETH Zurich team’s microbubbles are small and smooth, aiding in their navigation through narrow capillaries, as explained by Alexia Del Campo Fonseca, a doctoral student in Ahmed’s group and the study’s lead author.

Navigating Against Blood Flow

Ahmed and his team have spent years in the lab developing this microbubble navigation method. Collaborating with the University of Zurich and University Hospital Zurich, they’ve now successfully tested it in mouse brain vessels. The injected microbubbles naturally flow with the bloodstream, but the team used ultrasound to control and direct them against the blood flow, even through complex vascular paths.

Controlling the microvehicles involved attaching transducers to the mouse skulls, generating ultrasonic vibrations. These vibrations interact in the brain, amplifying or cancelling each other at specific points. The team used a sophisticated technique to adjust each transducer’s output, monitored through real-time imaging.

Looking Ahead

For imaging in this study, two-photon microscopy was used. Future plans include enhancing ultrasound technology for this purpose.

In this research phase, the microbubbles were not drug-laden. The objective was to establish their navigability in blood vessels and suitability for brain applications. Promising medical applications lie ahead, particularly in cancer, stroke, and mental health treatment. The next phase involves attaching drug molecules to the bubbles for transportation, aiming to develop a method applicable to human treatments.

Reference: “Ultrasound trapping and navigation of microrobots in the mouse brain vasculature” by Alexia Del Campo Fonseca, Chaim Glück, Jeanne Droux, Yann Ferry, Carole Frei, Susanne Wegener, Bruno Weber, Mohamad El Amki and Daniel Ahmed, 21 September 2023, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-41557-3

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about ultrasound microbubbles

What is the breakthrough discovery in ultrasound microbubbles?

The breakthrough is the use of ultrasound-guided microbubbles to navigate through brain blood vessels. This technique offers a targeted, less invasive method for treating brain-related conditions, such as tumors and psychological disorders, potentially reducing the side effects of medications.

How do ultrasound microbubbles work in the brain?

Researchers have developed a method to steer microvehicles, which are essentially gas-filled microbubbles, through the blood vessels in the brain using ultrasound. These microbubbles can be equipped with medications, allowing for precise drug delivery to specific brain areas.

What are the potential benefits of this ultrasound microbubble technology?

This technology could significantly improve the treatment of brain disorders by providing a more localized approach to drug delivery. It has the potential to increase the effectiveness of medications while reducing their side effects, particularly in treating brain tumors, hemorrhages, and neurological conditions.

How does ultrasound compare to other navigation technologies for microbubbles?

Ultrasound offers several advantages over other navigation technologies like magnetic fields. It is widely used in the medical field, is safe, and can penetrate deep into the body. This makes it suitable for guiding microbubbles through the complex network of blood vessels in the brain.

What are the future plans for this ultrasound microbubble technology?

The immediate plan is to attach drug molecules to these microbubbles for drug transport. Researchers aim to refine this technology for use in humans, hoping it will lead to the development of new treatments for cancer, stroke, and psychological conditions.

More about ultrasound microbubbles

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SarahLee91 December 28, 2023 - 4:22 pm

amazing how science is always finding new ways to treat diseases, especially something as complex as brain health. Really hope this can help people with tumors and stuff.

Mike_J December 28, 2023 - 6:11 pm

wow, this is super cool stuff! Never thought ultrasound could do things like this in the brain.

CuriousCat December 29, 2023 - 1:46 am

read about the ultrasound vs magnetism thing, still kinda confused but sounds like ultrasound is the better option? science is wild, man.

HealthWatcher December 29, 2023 - 4:11 am

wondering how long it’ll take before this tech can be used in humans? feels like a game changer for medicine.

TechGeekRon December 29, 2023 - 9:39 am

gotta say, im impressed with ETH Zurich’s work. They’re always at the forefront of tech innovations, but this is next level.


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