Researchers devised a cancer treatment utilising acoustic waves to target and eliminate malignant tumours in a new study.
While low-intensity ultrasound has been utilised as a medical imaging tool since the 1950s, researchers at the University of Waterloo are developing and refining models to better understand how high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) works at the cellular level.
The Bulletin of Mathematical Biology recently published this paper. The study, led by Siv Sivaloganathan, an applied mathematician and researcher at the Fields Institute’s Centre for Math Medicine, discovered that by executing mathematical models in computer simulations, fundamental challenges in technology can be solved without putting actual patients in danger.
Sivaloganathan develops the mathematical models that engineers and surgeons use to put HIFU into practice with the help of his graduate students June Murley, Kevin Jiang, and postdoctoral scholar Maryam Ghasemi. “We’re going at this from different directions,” he added, adding that his colleagues in other professions are interested in the same issues.
“My role is to construct a robust model using mathematics and computer simulations that others can use in laboratory or clinical settings. The simulations give a tremendous head start for clinical trials, even though the models aren’t quite as complicated as human organs and tissue.”
One of the challenges Sivaloganathan is now tackling is the fact that while HIFU is effective at targeting tumours, it also poses a risk to healthy tissue. The goal is that good tissue will not be harmed when HIFU is utilised to eradicate tumours or malignant lesions. The same is true when powerful acoustic waves are focused on a tumour on the bone, which releases a lot of heat energy.
Sivaloganathan and his colleagues are investigating how heat is dissipated and whether it causes bone marrow injury.
Engineers who are constructing the physical technology are collaborating with Sivaloganathan, as are medical specialists, including James Drake, chief surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children, who is looking into the practical application of HIFU in clinical settings.
HIFU, according to Sivaloganathan, will significantly alter cancer therapies as well as other medical procedures and treatments. In the treatment of some prostate tumours, HIFU is already showing promise.
“I believe it is an issue that will take centre stage in clinical practice,” he stated. “It does not have the same side effects as radiation or chemotherapy. Apart from the effect of heat, which we are currently addressing, there are no additional adverse effects. It might also be used to break apart blood clots and even give medications.”