High intensity focused ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure that is similar to focusing the sun on a leaf with a magnifying glass. While the process is not intended to boil an organ, more physicians are seeking out this method to heat up and denature the affected tissues. The procedure can, theoretically, be performed inside an MRI and be closely monitored as an MRI measures the rise and fall of temperature. Although high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) has been in existence since the 1940s, it is only recently that the field has begun to further develop, and several experts believe that it may change the course of medicine in the future.
Although the existence of densely-packed cells within the blood vessels of the brain are beneficial as they protect the individual against harmful particles, in some cases, physicians wish to break past the barrier to deliver drugs that may help to treat conditions that are negatively affecting the central nervous system. Since doctors are unable to push most medications through due to their complexity and size, the acoustic shockwave of a high-focused intensity ultrasound can alter the shape of the capillaries and can temporarily open the barrier in the patient’s brain.
One of the most important aspects of HIFU is that it is a non-invasive procedure. Whereby patients living with brain tumors, prostate cancer and other conditions may require surgeries as standard treatments, sound waves, much like light ways, may be just as effective in safely destroying tumors and other cancerous cells. Studies have already reported success with high intensity focused intensity ultrasound in treating kidney and liver tumors as well as breast and prostate cancer.
Similarly, the focused ultrasound can be used as a treatment for hypertension as, currently, one of the only ways to treat this condition is through radio-frequency pulses that disrupt the abdomen’s renal arteries. However, this procedure, although not surgical, is still considered to be invasive as it requires a catheter, but high-focused intensity ultrasound that uses sound waves through a transducer outside for the patient’s body may be an effective method of treating the nerves around the blood vessels.
High Intensity Focused Ultrasound and Plaque
A team at the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota has found that HIFU may also help to clean out a patient’s arteries in an attempt to remove plaque and other buildup that might have occurred over time. If plaque is left in a patient’s body, blood clots may form and may break away from the lining of the vessel. Should this happen, the clot could potentially travel to the heart, lungs or brain and cause a heart attack, pulmonary embolism or stroke, respectively. While physicians typically use medications or place balloons inside the vessels and expand them to help the plaque to break away, there are potential complications associated with these methods. Instead, high intensity focused ultrasound directed at a vessel for two to five seconds can help to rid the arteries of plaque.
With technology ever increasing, high intensity focused ultrasound will likely be tested and used in a variety of other healthcare settings as researchers continue to develop this method as an alternative to traditional surgical procedures.