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Watching tumors melt away

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 13 May, 2003  (Company News)
All standard methods of removing tumors have side effects. Surgical excision under anesthetic leaves a wound, usually extending into adjacent healthy tissue. It also raises the risk of cancerous cells spreading via blood and lymph vessels. The X- or gamma-rays used in radiation therapy have to pass through healthy tissue to reach deeper-lying tumors, causing collateral damage on the way. And the hormones and other drugs used in chemotherapy have undesirable effects on the whole body.
Since the 1980s, these established forms of therapy have been joined by induced hyperthermia, where the affected area is heated externally to a temperature of around 43 C. A newer, more advanced technique involves directly applying heat, at 60 to 100 C to the site of the tumor. The tumorous tissue coagulates, is separated from the surrounding intact tissue and is finally dissolved by the body. A heat source such as an infrared laser beam via optical fibers or a high-frequency probe is introduced to the site of the tumor. The success of this minimally invasive technique, like any other, depends on removing as much of the cancerous growth as possible, with the least possible damage to healthy tissue.

Images of the heat diffusion pattern and the destroyed area of the tumor can be obtained using magnetic resonance imaging. But MRI scanners are too expensive for routine use, and metal surgical instruments cause interference with the magnetic and RF fields. So thermotherapy is usually carried out without direct feedback - the surgeon has to rely on his or her practical experience. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT and colleagues at the Berlin company Laser- und Medizintechnologie GmbH have devised a method to visualize and measure the progress of thermotherapy by ultrasound. 'Our method, which already has been tested on animals, is based on two observed effects,' explains Dr. Robert Lemor, the IBMT's head of the UGITT project (ultrasound-guided interstitial thermotherapy). 'One is that the sound velocity varies according to the temperature of the tissue. The other is that the tissue's acoustic damping properties change as it coagulates.'

Last year, Dr. Lemor's work was rewarded with the Stiftung Familie Klee prize awarded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fr Biomedizinische Technik.
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