Ultrasound contrast microbubbles in imaging and therapy: Physical principles and engineering

Shengping Qin, Charles F. Caskey, Katherine W. Ferrara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

319 Scopus citations


Microbubble contrast agents and the associated imaging systems have developed over the past 25 years, originating with manually-agitated fluids introduced for intra-coronary injection. Over this period, stabilizing shells and low diffusivity gas materials have been incorporated in microbubbles, extending stability in vitro and in vivo. Simultaneously, the interaction of these small gas bubbles with ultrasonic waves has been extensively studied, resulting in models for oscillation and increasingly sophisticated imaging strategies. Early studies recognized that echoes from microbubbles contained frequencies that are multiples of the microbubble resonance frequency. Although individual microbubble contrast agents cannot be resolved - given that their diameter is on the order of microns - nonlinear echoes from these agents are used to map regions of perfused tissue and to estimate the local microvascular flow rate. Such strategies overcome a fundamental limitation of previous ultrasound blood flow strategies; the previous Doppler-based strategies are insensitive to capillary flow. Further, the insonation of resonant bubbles results in interesting physical phenomena that have been widely studied for use in drug and gene delivery. Ultrasound pressure can enhance gas diffusion, rapidly fragment the agent into a set of smaller bubbles or displace the microbubble to a blood vessel wall. Insonation of a microbubble can also produce liquid jets and local shear stress that alter biological membranes and facilitate transport. In this review, we focus on the physical aspects of these agents, exploring microbubble imaging modes, models for microbubble oscillation and the interaction of the microbubble with the endothelium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhysics in Medicine and Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology


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