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Microbubble Technology Could Help Surgeons Target Cancer Better Using Ultrasound

By MedImaging International staff writers
Posted on 08 Mar 2023
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Image: Microbubbles could help cancer patients avoid life-changing surgeries (Photo courtesy of Pexels)
Image: Microbubbles could help cancer patients avoid life-changing surgeries (Photo courtesy of Pexels)

The current method of treating bowel cancer requires surgeons to remove a significant amount of tissue surrounding a tumor in order to eliminate the cancer and prevent it from spreading. Unfortunately, it is only after the tissue is removed that it can be analyzed and confirmed as cancerous. This approach can result in patients needing a stoma and colostomy bag, as the surgery can be quite extensive. Sometimes, this situation may lead to a permanent need for a stoma depending on the severity of the surgery. Now, a new study has found that microbubble technology holds great potential in assisting surgeons to target cancer more precisely. This new technology could greatly minimize the need for invasive surgeries, significantly enhancing the quality of life for bowel cancer patients.

In the study, researchers at The University of Strathclyde (Glasgow, UK) found that by injecting patients with safe microscopic gas bubbles, ultrasound technology could be utilized by surgeons to locate which areas of tissue the cancer has spread to. The acquired data could help minimize the removal of healthy tissue, thus reducing the complexity of surgery and the risks associated with it for the patients. This innovative approach could revolutionize the treatment of bowel cancer in the near future.

The study dealt with the examination of lymph nodes in bowel cancer patients, which represent a crucial aspect in determining any indication of cancer spread as they form part of the immune system. Generally, lymph nodes can be challenging to image; however, through the application of microbubble technology, the researchers were able to differentiate lymph nodes that were cancerous from those that remained healthy. Microbubbles of an inert, safe gas stabilized with a shell of lipid - a layer of fat similar to that existing in the protective outer membrane of human cells – could be injected into the bloodstream of patients.

Ultrasound technology utilizes high-frequency sound waves to generate images of the inside of the body. Upon injection, the microbubbles diffuse through the bloodstream, covering the targeted area for scanning. Upon encountering an ultrasound wave, the microbubbles expand on account of the local pressure change generated by the wave. This results in the expanding microbubbles reflecting additional ultrasound energy back to the scanner, thereby creating brighter ultrasound images that make it easier to identify features like lymph nodes and blood vessels in the circulatory system. This method is already being successfully used in the diagnosis of liver and cardiac diseases, and could hopefully be extended to treat bowel cancer patients. Furthermore, the technology could enable more precise scanning during cancer treatment and aid in monitoring the disease's progression.

“Current practice is for a substantial amount of surrounding tissue to be removed alongside bowel cancer tumors. This can lead to patients requiring a stoma which is a life changing procedure requiring an extensive recovery and adaption period,” said Dr. Helen Mulvana, a Chancellor’s Fellow in Strathclyde’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, who led the research team. “Our hope is that using microbubbles could allow doctors to see which tissue is cancerous during surgery and allow them to remove only what is necessary. This could reduce the extent of surgery, reduce the need for a stoma in many patients, and speed up the post-operative recovery time.”

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