"Relax, it's not a laser." Using Ultrasound Beams to Repair Lung Injuries

Author:  Falishia Sloan

Institution:  Eastern Virginia Medical School
Date:  September 2007

Scientists at the University of Washington are working with Harborview Medical Center to study a novel approach for treating lung injuries,ultrasound. Resembling very much the "sci-fi" technology seen on popular TV series, this technique includes using ultrasound rays to seal punctured lungs.

This technology has the potential to provide patients with a variety of treatments, including treatment of pain, destruction of dangerous cancerous tissues, and surgeries sans tools or blood. Currently, lung injuries such as crushing or puncture wounds are treated with procedures that can escalate into surgery and be invasive and painful and perhaps eventually culminating in the removal of part of the lung.

UW associate professor of bioengineering, Shahram Vaezy, said, "No one has ever looked at treating lungs with ultrasound." And for good reason,the lung is abundant with alveoli,air sacs,and air actually blocks the transmission of ultrasound beams. Using the high-intensity ultrasound technology, however, recent tests published in the Journal of Trauma have shown that lung leaks in pigs have been sealed in one or two minutes, and more than 95% of the subjects were stable after the two minutes of high-intensity ultrasound treatment.

In this technology, a rice-grain sized beam of high-intensity focused ultrasound that is tens of thousands of times more powerful than the beams used in ultrasound imaging are used to focus on a particular part of the patient's body. A sensor would be passed over the patient's body, and the rays, focusing to create an extremely hot spot, would heat the blood cells until a seal formed, skipping the tissue between the device and the targeted spot.

"You can penetrate deep into the body and deliver the energy to the bleeding very accurately, "Vaezy said.

The current research by Vaezy and and his colleagues at the Center for Industrial and Medical Ultrasound in UW's Applied Physics Laboratory shows that the high-intensity ultrasound therapy applied from outside could be used and is effective in stopping bleeding and air leakage from the lungs. The therapy has been used in the past to repair bleeding in the spleen and to seal blood vessels.

Co-author and chief of trauma at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and UW professor of surgery Gregory Jurkovich said that eventually, the new therapy may be used for image-guided therapy. "Doctors will scan the body from the outside, recognize where the injury is, focus the beam on the injury and use the beams to seal the wound. It would be non-invasive and it would stop the bleeding from the outside. When it happens, that's going to revolutionize how we would care for some of these injuries."

Author: Falishia Sloan

Reviewed by Nicholas Buttino

Published by Konrad Sawicki