Science Seminar: Ultrasound and Bubbles

Daniel King, Ph. D., gave a seminar entitled “Ultrasound and the Dynamics of Tiny Shelled Bubbles” this Monday. The seminar was held at 1:04 p.m. in the Suter Science Center Room 104 King discussed uses of ultrasound for various medical purposes, as well as ways that ultrasound can be used in conjunction with “microbubbles” to create even more possibilities for healing.

King described ultrasound as sound at frequencies above the range of sound audible to humans. Sound waves at these frequencies can be used to create two- and three-dimensional pictures of organs and structures that are inside the body. Ultrasound is not only used for making images; it can be used for non-invasive surgery as well.

This can be done by using “Micro-bubbles” in tandom with ultrasound. These bubbles can be 1 to 10 micrometers in diameter, and are made of a gas core surrounded by a thin shell for stability. These bubbles were originally used with ultrasound to improve imaging in vasculature the arrangement of blood vessels. Microbubbles expand and contract in response to ultrasound. This oscillating creates a streaming force in the liquid surrounding the bubbles.

King went on to explain how this streaming can be used for sonoporation-targeted drug delivery. Oscillating bubbles can cause streaming forces and shock waves that open a cell membrane and can transfer medicine inside,without permanently damaging the cell. This could be used on cancer cells to transfer medicine into them. This method, however, is not perfect.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to make the bubbles deliver medicine to only cancer cells, and not to healthy cells as well. One way King mentioned to reduce the spread of the effects of microbubbles in noncarcinogenic cells is to localize the region of the body that ultrasound is used on. King also concluded that by understanding how the material properties of bubbles interact with the acoustic properties of ultrasound, the bubbles can be “tuned” to make a more desirable effect.

One final way that microbubbles can be used, King explained, has greater environmental than medical implications. Microbubbles can be used to extract energy from algae. Some algae contain a type of oil that is a promising source of renewable energy. If microbubbles are mixed with algae and ultrasound is used, the oil can be extracted. If this microbubble technique can be used at a large scale, this could be a viable way of producing energy.

King’s seminar taught about the many different ways that ultrasound can be used, and is only one in a series of seminars being hosted in the Suter Science Center. The next seminar is called “Into the Andes: The Cloud Monkeys of Peru,” hosted by Anneke DeLuycker from the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, and will take place at 4 p.m. next Monday.

-Bethannie Parks, Style Editor

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