Cancer treatment chemotherapy room

High-intensity ultrasound could help create new cancer treatments

Image credit: Eldelik/Dreamstime

Canadian researchers are investigating how high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) could be used to help target and destroy cancerous tumours.

While doctors have used low-intensity ultrasound as a medical imaging tool since the 1950s, experts at the University of Waterloo in Ontario are using and extending models that help capture how HIFU can work on a cellular level.

The study, led by Siv Sivaloganathan, an applied mathematician and researcher with the Centre for Math Medicine at the Fields Institute, found that by running mathematical models in computer simulations, fundamental problems in the technology can be solved with no risk to patients. 

Sivaloganathan, together with graduate students June Murley and Kevin Jiang, and postdoctoral fellow Maryam Ghasemi, created the mathematical models used by engineers and doctors to put HIFU into practice. He said his colleagues in other fields are interested in the same problems, but are approaching them from different directions.

“My side of it is to use mathematics and computer simulations to develop a solid model others can take and use in labs or clinical settings,” he explained. “And although the models are not nearly as complex as human organs and tissue, the simulations give a huge head start for clinical trials.”

One obstacle the team is looking to overcome is that, in targeting cancers, HIFU also poses risks to healthy tissue.

When HIFU is being used to destroy tumours or cancerous lesions, the hope is that good tissue won’t be destroyed. The same applies when focusing the intense acoustic waves on a tumour on the bone where lots of heat energy is released. The team is working to understand how the heat dissipates and if it damages bone marrow.

Sivaloganathan believes HIFU will change cancer treatments and other medical procedures and treatments. HIFU is already finding practical application in the treatment of some prostate cancers.

“It’s an area that I think is going to take centre stage in clinical medicine,” he said. “It doesn’t have the negative side effects of radiation therapy or chemotherapy. There are no side effects other than the effect of heat, which we are working on right now. It also has applications as a new way to break up blood clots and even to administer drugs.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles