Ultrasound microbubble contrast agents are effective and safe echo enhancers. An ingenious array of methods are employed to achieve stability and provide a clinically useful enhancement period. Microbubbles enhance ultrasound signals by up to 25 dB (greater than 300-fold increase) due to resonant behaviour. This is used to rescue failed Doppler studies and may be extended to image the microcirculation of tumours and the myocardium using non-linear modes. Functional studies open up a whole range of applications by using a variety of active and passive quantitation techniques to derive indices from the transit of contrast through a tissue of interest. This has been especially successful in the detection of liver metastases and cirrhosis and shows great promise as a clinical tool. It also has great potential in measuring microcirculatory flow velocity. The demonstration that some microbubbles are not just pure blood pool agents but have a hepatosplenic specific phase has extended the versatility of ultrasound. Imaging of this stationary phase with non-linear modes such as phase inversion and stimulated acoustic emission, has improved the sensitivity and specificity of ultrasound in the detection and characterisation of focal liver lesions to rival that of CT and MR.
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