A preliminary in vitro assessment of polymer-shelled microbubbles in contrast-enhanced ultrasound imaging

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★ Polymer-shelled bubbles as ultrasound contrast agent in non-destructive medical imaging. ★ Three multi-pulse techniques were compared performing in vitro experiments. ★ Weaker echoes and nonlinear behavior are produced by polymeric bubbles with respect to lipidic bubbles. ★ Polymeric bubbles at low concentration can be detected by 2 techniques which utilize a third-order nonlinear component. ★ The best performance is given by a technique that combines multi-pulse excitation and chirp coding.

This paper focuses on the use of poly (vinyl alcohol)-shelled microbubbles as a contrast agent in ultrasound medical imaging. The objective was an in vitro assessment of the different working conditions and signal processing methods for the visual detection (especially in small vessels) of such microbubbles, while avoiding their destruction. Polymer-shelled microbubbles have recently been proposed as ultrasound contrast agents with some important advantages. The major drawback is a shell that is less elastic than that of the traditional lipidic microbubbles. Weaker echoes are expected, and their detection at low concentrations may be critical. In vitro experiments were performed with a commercial ultrasound scanner equipped with a dedicated acquisition board. A concentration of 100 bubbles/mm3, excitation pressure amplitudes from 120 kPa to 320 kPa, and a central frequency of 3 MHz or 4.5 MHz were used. Three multi-pulse techniques (i.e., pulse inversion, contrast pulse sequence based on three transmitted signals, and contrast pulse sequence in combination with the chirp pulse) were compared. The results confirmed that these microbubbles produce a weaker ultrasound response than lipidic bubbles with a reduced second-order nonlinear component. Nevertheless, these microbubbles can be detected by the contrast pulse sequence technique, especially when the chirp pulse is adopted. The best value of the contrast-to-tissue ratio was obtained at an excitation pressure amplitude of 230 kPa: although this pressure amplitude is higher than what is typically used for lipidic microbubbles, it does not cause the rupture of the polymeric contrast agent.

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