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Development of Microbubble Contrast Agents with Biochemical Recognition and Tunable Acoustic Response /


Microbubbles, consisting of gas-filled cores encapsulated within phospholipid or polymer shells, are the most widely used ultrasound contrast agents in the world. Because of their acoustic impedance mismatch with surrounding tissues and compressible gaseous interiors, they have high echogenicities that allow for efficient backscatter of ultrasound. They can also generate unique harmonic frequencies when insonated near their resonance frequency, depending on physical microbubble properties such as the stiffness and thickness of the encapsulating shell. Microbubbles are used to detect a number of cardiovascular diseases, but current methodologies lack the ability to detect and distinguish small, rapidly growing abnormalities that do not produce visible blockage or slowing of blood flow. This work describes the development, formulation, and validation of microbubbles with various polymer shell architectures designed to modulate their acoustic ability. We demonstrate that the addition of a thick disulfide crosslinked, poly(acrylic acid) encapsulating shell increases a bubble's resistance to cavitation and changes its resonance frequency. Modification of this shell architecture to use hybridized DNA strands to form crosslinks between the polymer chains allows for tuning of the bubble acoustic response. When the DNA crosslinks are in place, shell stiffness is increased so the bubbles do not oscillate and acoustic signal is muted. Subsequently, when these DNA strands are displaced, partial acoustic activity is restored. By using aptamer sequences with a specific affinity towards the biomolecule thrombin as the DNA crosslinking strand, this acoustic "ON/OFF" behavior can be specifically tailored towards the presence of a specific biomarker, and produces a change in acoustic signal at concentrations of thrombin consistent with acute deep venous thrombosis. Incorporation of the emulsifying agent poly(ethylene glycol) into the encapsulating shell improves microbubble yield and circulation half-life substantially, allowing for the in vivo detection of a blood clot in a rabbit model. The results presented here show a unique marriage of highly specific molecular imaging and sonography that could be tailored towards a wide variety of cardiovascular abnormalities

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