Fast microbubble dwell-time based ultrasonic molecular imaging approach for quantification and monitoring of angiogenesis in cancer

Marybeth A. Pysz, Ismayil Guracar, Lu Tian, Jürgen K. Willmann


Purpose: To develop and test a fast ultrasonic molecular imaging technique for quantification and monitoring of angiogenesis in cancer.
Materials and methods: A new software algorithm measuring the dwell time of contrast microbubbles in near real-time (henceforth, fast method) was developed and integrated in a clinical ultrasound system. In vivo quantification and monitoring of tumor angiogenesis during anti-VEGF antibody therapy was performed in human colon cancer xenografts in mice (n=20) using the new fast method following administration of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2 (VEGFR2)-targeted contrast microbubbles. Imaging results were compared with a traditional destruction/replenishment approach (henceforth, traditional method) in an intra-animal comparison.
Results: There was excellent correlation (R2=0.93; P<0.001) between the fast method and the traditional method in terms of VEGFR2-targeted in vivo ultrasonic molecular imaging with significantly higher (P=0.002) imaging signal in colon cancer xenografts using VEGFR2-targeted compared to control non-targeted contrast microbubbles. The new fast method was highly reproducible (ICC=0.87). Following anti-angiogenic therapy, ultrasonic molecular imaging signal decreased by an average of 41±10%, whereas imaging signal increased by an average of 54±8% in non-treated tumors over a 72-hour period. Decreased VEGFR2 expression levels following anti-VEGF therapy were confirmed on ex vivo immunofluorescent staining.
Conclusions: Fast ultrasonic molecular imaging based on dwell time microbubble signal measurements correlates well with the traditional measurement method, and allows reliable in vivo monitoring of anti-angiogenic therapy in human colon cancer xenografts. The improved work-flow afforded by the new quantification approach may facilitate clinical translation of ultrasonic molecular imaging.