Heart attack and stroke-causing plaque deposits in the arteries are typically preceded by an inflammation of the arteries in those same areas. Therefore, if doctors could be aware of those inflamed regions before plaque deposits formed and problems such as chest pains arose, a lot of hardship could potentially be avoided. Well, that soon may be possible, thanks to some tiny bubbles.

In tests conducted at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine, assistant teaching professor Isabelle Masseau started out with perfluorocarbon gas-containing, lipid-shelled “micro-bubbles.” Each of those bubbles measured just two to three microns in diameter.

She proceeded to attach antibodies to the micro-bubbles, and then injected them into the bloodstream of pigs with heart disease. The antibodies were drawn to inflammatory sites in the pigs’ arteries, and caused the bubbles to stick to them. Using ultrasound, she was then able to pinpoint the locations of those gathered bubbles, as the gas within them reflected back the ultrasound signal.

“Because this procedure was successful in pigs, it also could potentially be reproduced in humans as well,” Masseau said. “While it would still be a few years away, injecting targeted micro-bubbles into a human and then scanning them with an ultrasound would be a very simple procedure and could potentially help save lives.”

If further animals tests over the next few years are also successful, human trials may then begin.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Also taking part in the study were Prof. Doug Bowles and Prof. Michael Davis.