Ultrasound imaging often calls for the injection of contrast agents, micron-sized bubbles which echo strongly in blood and help distinguish vascularized tissue. Such microbubbles are also being augmented for targeted drug delivery and gene therapy, by the addition of surface receptors and therapeutic payloads. Unfortunately, conventional production methods yield a polydisperse population, whose nonuniform resonance and drug-loading are less than ideal. An alternative technique, microfluidic flow-focusing, is able to produce highly monodisperse microbubbles with stabilizing lipid membranes and drug-carrying oil layers. However, the published 1 kHz production rate for these uniform drug bubbles is very low compared to conventional methods, and must be improved before clinical use can be practical. In this study, flow-focusing production of oil-layered lipid microbubbles was tested up to 300 kHz, with coalescence suppressed by high lipid concentrations or inclusion of Pluronic F68 surfactant in the lipid solution. The transition between geometry-controlled and dripping production regimes was analysed, and production scaling was found to be continuous, with a power trend of exponent ~5/12 similar to literature. Unlike prior studies with this trend, however, scaling curves here were found to be pressure-dependent, particularly at lower pressure-flow equilibria (e.g. <15 psi). Adjustments in oil flow rate were observed to have a similar effect, akin to a pressure change of 13 psi. This analysis and characterization of high-speed dual-layer bubble generation will enable more-predictive production control, at rates practical for in vivo or clinical use.
Shih, Roger, David Bardin, Thomas D. Martz, Paul S. Sheeran, Paul A. Dayton, Abraham P. Lee