1. Department of Biomedical Engineering and Environmental Sciences, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan.
2. Institute of Bioinformatics and Structural Biology & Department of Medical Sciences, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan.
3. Department of Neurosurgery, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Taoyuan, Taiwan.
Tumor microenvironment influences the efficacy of anti-cancer therapies. The dysfunctional tumor vasculature limits the efficiency of oxygenation and drug delivery to reduce treatment outcome. A concept of tumor vascular normalization (VN), which inhibits angiogenesis to improve vessel maturity, blood perfusion, and oxygenation, has been demonstrated under the anti-angiogenic therapy. The efficiency of drug delivery and penetration is increased by enhancing perfusion and reducing interstitial fluid pressure during the time window of VN. However, anti-angiogenic agents only induce transient VN and then prune vessels to aggravate tumor hypoxia. To repair tumor vessels without altering vessel density, we proposed to induce tumor VN by local oxygen release via oxygen microbubbles with ultrasound. With tumor perfusion enhancement under ultrasound contrast imaging tracing, the time window of VN was defined as 2-8 days after a single oxygen microbubble treatment. The enhanced tumor oxygenation after oxygen microbubble treatment inhibited hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1α)/vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) pathway to improve the morphology and function of tumor vasculature. The pericyte coverage and Hoechst penetration of tumor vessels increased without any changes to the vessel density. Finally, the intratumoral accumulation of anti-cancer drug doxorubicin could be increased 3-4 folds during tumor VN. These findings demonstrate that regulating tumor oxygenation by oxygen microbubbles could normalize dysfunctional vessels to enhance vascular maturity, blood perfusion, and drug penetration. Furthermore, ultrasound perfusion imaging provides a simple and non-invasive way to detect the VN time window, which increases the feasibility of VN in clinical cancer applications.
Keywords: oxygen microbubbles, tumor perfusion, vascular normalization, oxygenation, ultrasound