Jonathan Lovell, PhD and Chulhong Kim, PhD.

Jonathan Lovell, PhD, and Chulhong Kim, PhD, have helped create a novel contrast agent that improves ultrasound images while not interfering with photoacoustic tomography.

Published March 15, 2013

Colored Microbubbles Could Redefine Medical Imaging

University at Buffalo biomedical engineers and their Toronto collaborators have developed a contrast agent that can be used jointly to create ultrasound and photacoustic tomography (PAT) images.


The result—a more nuanced picture of the body’s interior—could help physicians treat everything from hypoxia to cancer.

Breakthrough Builds on Traditional Contrast Agent

The new contrast agent, known as porsche microbubbles, sharpens ultrasound images while not interfering with PAT, a newer, complementary technology that provides a more in-depth view of the body.

The researchers created them by encapsulating microbubbles—used as a contrast agent in ultrasound—with porphyrin, an organic compound that strongly absorbs light, and phospholipid, a fat similar to vegetable oil.

Their study was featured on the cover of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Cancer Patients May Benefit from New Technique

With promising results from early tests of the colored microbubbles, researchers are now exploring potential applications.

One possibility entails using the agent to analyze the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Instead of waiting weeks for results, doctors could know within days, notes Jonathan Lovell, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UB.

“We're only scratching the surface of what is possible,” he says.

In addition to Lovell, UB co-authors include biomedical engineering’s Chulhong Kim, PhD, assistant professor, and Mansik Jeon, PhD, postdoctoral associate.

Four collaborators from Toronto’s University Health Network also co-authored the paper.