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High-intensity ultrasound could help create new cancer treatments

Anadic researchers are investigating how high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) can be used to help fight and destroy cancerous tumors.

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

The study, led by Siv Sivaloganathan, an applied mathematician and researcher at the Fields Institute’s Center for Math Medicine, found that by using mathematical models in computer simulations, fundamental problems in the technology could be solved without risk to patients.

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

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

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

When HIFU is used to destroy tumors or cancerous lesions, the hope is that good tissue is not destroyed. The same goes for directing the intense acoustic waves to a tumor on the bone where a lot of heat energy is released. The team is trying to understand how the heat dissipates and whether it damages the bone marrow.

Sivaloganathan believes that 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 be central to 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’re working on now. It also has applications as a new way to break up blood clots and even deliver drugs.”