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J Nucl Med. 2012 Mar;53(3):345-8. doi: 10.2967/jnumed.111.099754.

Ultrasound microbubbles for molecular diagnosis, therapy, and theranostics.

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Department of Experimental Molecular Imaging, RWTH-Aachen University, Aachen, Germany.


Ultrasound imaging is clinically established for routine screening examinations of breast, abdomen, neck, and other soft tissues, as well as for therapy monitoring. Microbubbles as vascular contrast agents improve the detection and characterization of cancerous lesions, inflammatory processes, and cardiovascular pathologies. Taking advantage of the excellent sensitivity and specificity of ultrasound for microbubble detection, molecular imaging can be realized by binding antibodies, peptides, and other targeting moieties to microbubble surfaces. Molecular microbubbles directed against various targets such as vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2, vascular cell adhesion molecule 1, intercellular adhesion molecule 1, selectins, and integrins were developed and were shown in preclinical studies to be able to selectively bind to tumor blood vessels and atherosclerotic plaques. Currently, the first microbubble formulations targeted to angiogenic vessels in prostate cancers are being evaluated clinically. However, microbubbles can be used for more than diagnosis: disintegrating microbubbles emit acoustic forces that are strong enough to induce thrombolysis, and they can also be used for facilitating drug and gene delivery across biologic barriers. This review on the use of microbubbles for ultrasound-based molecular imaging, therapy, and theranostics addresses innovative concepts and identifies areas in which clinical translation is foreseeable in the near future.

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