Non-invasive drug and gene delivery to the brain to treat central nervous system pathologies has long been inhibited by the blood-brain barrier. The activation of microbubbles with focused ultrasound has emerged as a promising non-invasive approach to circumvent this obstacle, by transiently disrupting the blood-brain barrier and permitting passage of systemically administered therapeutics into the tissue. Clinical trials are underway to evaluate the safety of this technique; however, concerns remain regarding the potential for the treatment to induce sterile inflammation or petechiae. In this issue of Theranostics, Jones et al. address these concerns through the development of an advanced three-dimensional imaging system for monitoring acoustic emissions from oscillating microbubbles. When subharmonic emissions are detected with this system, focused ultrasound pressure is reduced by 50% for the remainder of the treatment. This serves to transiently open the blood-brain barrier without generating adverse effects. While the ideal configuration of the transducer array for treatment and monitoring still presents an area for further optimization, the approach indicates that the acoustic signature of microbubble behavior within the skull can be used to ensure safe and effective blood-brain barrier opening using focused ultrasound.
Keywords: acoustic emissions; acoustic monitoring; blood-brain barrier; focused ultrasound; targeted drug and gene delivery.