Originally Published MDDI April 2004
A European researcher is using new forms of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound not only to diagnose breast cancer, but also to treat it.
Dutch entrepreneur Hugo Brunsveld van Hulten is developing a platform that uses MRI to locate cancerous tissue and high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to “burn” malignant cells. The work is taking place at the European Space Agency (ESA; Paris) research and test center in Noordwijk, Netherlands. This is the first product to emerge from that facility's European Space Incubator.
If the system, called ActiveFU, realizes its promise, it will enable breast cancer patients to be treated noninvasively. It could also avoid the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. And it might result in decreased healthcare costs, since it is an outpatient treatment.
“HIFU is a proven intervention technique for the ablation of cancer cells in the human body,” said Brunsveld van Hulten. “This technique, combined with the recent advances in MRI capabilities that can provide a proper real-time view of the area during treatment, will give the ActiveFU operator highly sophisticated control of the hypothermal tumor-targeting procedure.”
The technique might also be able to treat small tumors other than breast cancer. “I could see that the next logical step for the use of MRI would be for interventional therapy,” said Brunsveld van Hulten. “I came to the conclusion that use of a dedicated HIFU system with a quality imaging MRI breast coil, the device that actually generates the image, could be a major breakthrough.” The coil is compatible with the latest MRI scanner systems.
He said having access to space technology has been a major boon to the project. “ESA's capacity to simulate complex systems has been vital in determining the optimal materials and technologies to use,” he said. “It was the electronic circuits and embedded software from ESA that enabled me to develop a system for real-time simulation and control of the critical thermal treatment process.”
In particular, ESA's wave propagation modeling was key in enabling the MRI and HIFU to work together. It has allowed the signal frequencies and phases to be adjusted to enable a physician to perform the intervention and monitor it at the same time.
The equipment is positioned with miniature nonmagnetic piezomotors. Originally designed for space applications, these do not allow any disturbance of the magnetic field for imaging.
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