Gemcitabine-loaded microbubble system for ultrasound imaging and therapy

Lauren J. Delaney, John R. Eisenbrey, David Brown, Jonathan R. Brody, Masaya Jimbo, Brian E. Oeffinger, Maria Stanczak, Flemming Forsberg, Ji Bin Liu, Margaret A. Wheatley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Ultrasound imaging presents many positive attributes, including safety, real-time imaging, universal accessibility, and cost. However, inherent difficulties in discrimination between soft tissues and tumors prompted development of stabilized microbubble contrast agents. This presents the opportunity to develop agents in which drug is entrapped in the microbubble shell. We describe preparation and characterization of theranostic poly(lactide) (PLA) and pegylated PLA (PEG-PLA) shelled microbubbles that entrap gemcitabine, a commonly used drug for pancreatic cancer (PDAC). Entrapping 6 wt% gemcitabine did not significantly affect drug activity, microbubble morphology, or ultrasound contrast activity compared with unmodified microbubbles. In vitro microbubble concentrations yielding ≥ 500nM entrapped gemcitabine were needed for complete cell death in MIA PaCa-2 PDAC drug sensitivity assays, compared with 62.5 nM free gemcitabine. In vivo administration of gemcitabine-loaded microbubbles to xenograft MIA PaCa-2 PDAC tumors in athymic mice was well tolerated and provided substantial tumoral image enhancement before and after destructive ultrasound pulses. However, no significant differences in tumor growth were observed among treatment groups, in keeping with the in vitro observation that much higher doses of gemcitabine are required to mirror free gemcitabine activity. Statement of significance: The preliminary results shown here are encouraging and support further investigation into increased gemcitabine loading. Encapsulation of gemcitabine within polylactic acid (PLA) microbubbles does not damage its activity towards pancreatic cancer (pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, PDAC) cells. Excellent imaging and evidence of penetration into the highly desmoplastic PDAC tumors is demonstrated. Microbubble destruction was confirmed in vivo, showing that elevated mechanical index shatters the microbubbles for enhanced delivery. The potential to slow PDAC growth in vivo is shown, but higher gemcitabine concentrations are required. Current efforts are directed at increasing drug loading by inclusion of drug-carrying nanoparticles for effective in vivo treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)385-394
Number of pages10
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Gemcitabine
  • Pancreatic adenocarcinoma
  • Polymer microbubbles
  • Targeted drug delivery
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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