Lithotripsy, the shock wave therapy currently used to pulverize kidney stones, is stimulating new thinking about how to non-invasively combat tumors. What’s more, sound waves may also lessen the likelihood that tumor cells will metastasize--spreading to other parts of the body.
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High Intensity Focused Ultrasound is currently being used in clinical trials in the United States for FDA approval of cancer therapy.
Mechanical engineering Associate Professor Pei Zhong, a world leader in lithotripsy, is working with Timothy Clay, Michael Morse, and H. Kim Lyerly of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center to develop a tumor eradication therapy they call HIFU Plus. Currently, high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) therapy creates ultrasound-generated heat to cook and kill tumor cells. This approach is effective for treating the primary tumor, but doesn’t mitigate the risk of metastasis.
In contrast, Zhong and collaborators are exploring a novel HIFU treatment strategy that combines the standard heat treatment with a non-thermal, vibration mode that causes tumor cancer cells to rupture. This simultaneously releases “danger signals” that simulate the body’s natural anti-tumor response. By combining this vibration pre-treatment with HIFU thermal ablation of the tumor, they hope to eradicate the primary tumor and suppress cancer metastasis. Zhong‘s team also is exploring whether the addition of immunotherapeutic agents might boost the body’s anti-tumor response. This research may lead to highly effective, innovative tumor treatments with the benefit of minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissues.