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Dual-Purpose Medical Imaging Contrast Agent Developed

Colored bubbles (Pasaje Moda/Flickr)Biomedical engineers from University at Buffalo in New York and medical researchers at University of Toronto in Canada developed a new type of contrast agent applicable to two medical imaging technologies. The findings of the Buffalo-Toronto team are described in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (paid subscription required).

The research team devised what they call porphyrin shell or porshe microbubbles, which can color enhance both ultrasound-based images, such as sonograms, and a newer technology called photoacoustic tomography, a complement to ultrasound. Photoacoustic tomography provides high resolution three-dimensional images from inside the body.

Ultrasound is an inexpensive and minimally invasive imaging technique used widely to monitor fetal development and track blood flow in the heart, liver, and kidneys. Fluorinated gas microbubbles are sometimes added to a patient’s blood stream to sharpen the grainy ultrasound images.

Photoacoustic tomography generates pressure waves from pulsed lasers that are converted to images from deep inside the body. The technology can measure properties such as oxygen levels in the blood, which goes beyond the capability of ultrasound that can show blood flow through an organ.

The Buffalo part of the research team created the contrast agent by encapsulating microbubbles in a shell of porphyrin — a natural organic compound that absorbs light — and phospholipid, a fat similar to vegetable oil. The colored porshe microbubbles they created can be injected into a patient’s blood stream to enhance ultrasound images, while remaining compatible with photoacoustic tomography.

The researchers believe porshe microbubbles can help improve the analysis of chemotherapy’s effectiveness, cutting the time needed for lab results from weeks to days. Porshe microbubbles could also help monitor people with chronic low blood oxygen levels, a condition called hypoxia. “We’re really not sure how the technology will be used,” says Jonathan Lovell, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Buffalo and co-author of the study. “We are, however, confident it will be a very useful tool, especially in medical imaging.”

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Image: Pasaje Moda/Flickr

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