Enhancement of Non-Invasive Trans-Membrane Drug Delivery Using Ultrasound and Microbubbles During Physiologically Relevant Flow

Farah E. Shamout, Antonios N. Pouliopoulos, Patrizia Lee, Simone Bonaccorsi, Leila Towhidi, Rob Krams, James J. Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sonoporation has been associated with drug delivery across cell membranes and into target cells, yet several limitations have prohibited further advancement of this technology. Higher delivery rates were associated with increased cellular death, thus implying a safety-efficacy trade-off. Meanwhile, there has been no reported study of safe invitro sonoporation in a physiologically relevant flow environment. The objective of our study was not only to evaluate sonoporation under physiologically relevant flow conditions, such as fluid velocity, shear stress and temperature, but also to design ultrasound parameters that exploit the presence of flow to maximize sonoporation efficacy while minimizing or avoiding cellular damage. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (EA.hy926) were seeded in flow chambers as a monolayer to mimic the endothelium. A peristaltic pump maintained a constant fluid velocity of 12.5 cm/s. A focused 0.5 MHz transducer was used to sonicate the cells, while an inserted focused 7.5 MHz passive cavitation detector monitored microbubble-seeded cavitation emissions. Under these conditions, propidium iodide, which is normally impermeable to the cell membrane, was traced to determine whether it could enter cells after sonication. Meanwhile, calcein-AM was used as a cell viability marker. A range of focused ultrasound parameters was explored, with several unique bioeffects observed: cell detachment, preservation of cell viability with no membrane penetration, cell death and preservation of cell viability with sonoporation. The parameters were then modified further to produce safe sonoporation with minimal cell death. To increase the number of favourable cavitation events, we lowered the ultrasound exposure pressure to 40 kPapk-neg and increased the number of cavitation nuclei by 50 times to produce a trans-membrane delivery rate of 62.6% ± 4.3% with a cell viability of 95% ± 4.2%. Furthermore, acoustic cavitation analysis showed that the low pressure sonication produced stable and non-inertial cavitation throughout the pulse sequence. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate a high drug delivery rate coupled with high cell viability in a physiologically relevant invitro flow system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2435-2448
Number of pages14
JournalUltrasound in Medicine and Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • EA.hy926
  • Endothelial cells
  • Microbubbles
  • Sonoporation
  • Trans-membrane drug delivery
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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