No Scalpels or Cutting in this Futuristic Operating Room

By: | April 4th, 2013

Most of us remember the medical technology used in Star Trek; with the wave of a wand diagnosis was immediate and treatment applied in seconds. Uterine fibroids, bone metastases, brain disorders, adenomyosis, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and liver cancer beware: this fictional technology is coming to life!

The operating room of the future will replace traditional surgery with non-invasive outpatient procedures. Insightec, established in 1999, has developed a breakthrough technology called “High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) that treats human illness without cutting the body. Most companies working on this technology were launched in the past decade and significant breakthroughs are believed to be imminent.

The operating room of the future will look very much like a large MRI machine where a patient is placed inside a large machine. Structures inside the body, cancer cells for example, are targeted for destruction in a completely non-invasive way. All procedures and vital signs will be monitored and controlled in real time to best influence the treatment outcome. Doctors will be able to change treatment parameters on the fly in real time rather than in retrospect.

The Technology

The main part of the system is the transducer that transmits ultrasound waves. The transducer for brain applications looks like a large metal helmet that has over 1000 elements, each one electronically controlled by a sophisticated hardware/software system.  All elements work together to focus ultrasound at the intended target.

InSightec started with uterine fibroids which affect 25% of women and cause suffering and significant symptoms. Today women receiving hysterectomies to deal with uterine fibroids, spend 3 to 5 days in the hospital, and weeks if not months recovering. Insightec’s procedure takes one day and the next day the patient is back to life, work and family: a dramatic change for all involved.

Insighttec also works in oncology and is currently working on a specific type of cancer: metatastic bone tumors applying a palliative treatment with great results.

The final area of focus at this time is the treatment of brain diseases. Central nervous system illnesses like Parkinson’s in which patients have suffered from essential tremor for decades are now leaving the operating room with no tremors!

Doctors will apply the technology to brain tumors, prostate cancer, liver tumors, breast cancer and so on. In the near future all hospitals will provide this type of treatment. Insightec believes the technology will be able to liquefy blood clots within the first 3 to 4 hours of a stroke thus getting blood flowing back into the brain and saving it from damage.

Better Management of Toxicities

Another idea is targeted drug delivery where significantly higher toxicities at the targeted volume could be directed at a tumor for example without affecting the rest of the body.

Dr. Kobi Vortman, one of the principles of InSightec, earned his first degree in physics and mathematics in Jerusalem, studied electrical engineering at Technion, and earned a PhD in electro-optics. Throughout his education Dr. Vortman has been involved in laboratory projects that came to fruition with technology used in new operating procedures.

The Challenge of Treating “Non-Standard” Bodies

The toughest part of the new technology taking nonstandard bodies, which is the norm, and finding the exact area that requires treatment. Non-uniform skulls, for example, need to be penetrated and the focal point of waves has to reach the required spot in the brain.

David Russell Schilling

David enjoys writing about high technology and its potential to make life better for all who inhabit planet earth.

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