Researchers test treatment for late-stage cancer

June 13, 2012 5:43 AM

Belinda Lacoste

At Tulane University this summer, researchers led by Damir Khismatullin begin the second phase of studies geared at developing a minimally invasive technique for treatment of large primary tumors and metastases to the liver and kidneys.

Tulane cancer researchers Damir Khismatullin, associate professor, and graduate student Chong (Carol) Chen.

Damir Khismatullin, left, leads research with graduate student Chong (Carol) Chen to develop a new treatment that could be effective for late-stage large tumors and metastases. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

The method proposed by Khismatullin, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, will be tested on tumor tissue his team is growing in the lab. It utilizes high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), combined with ethanol injection.

“This combination can dramatically increase the amount of tumor tissue that can be destroyed in one treatment, compared with other methods available today,” says Khismatullin. “Tumors that can be treated by current techniques cannot exceed 5 centimeters, and 3 centimeters is a safe guideline.”

When scientists focus acoustic energy, as with HIFU, energy dissipates into heat and leads to higher temperatures in the tissue. In addition, high-intensity ultrasound waves cause cavitation bubbles to form, grow and collapse, like in boiling water.

“This combination of high temperature and bubble activity thermally and mechanically destroys the tumor,” Khismatullin says.

In clinical trials, HIFU is being used without ethanol but the treatment area is very small and the treatment itself may take many hours.

The first phase of the research was performed by graduate student Chong (Carol) Chen and published in Physics in Medicine and Biology. It showed that when ethanol is added to the tissue, prior to the use of HIFU, the peak negative pressure required to create cavitation bubbles is reduced and higher temperatures in the tissue are reached.

“The combination of ethanol injection, one of the most effective ablation methods, and HIFU may have a synergistic effect,” says Khismatullin, “a much higher effect than either technique used alone. It could provide a minimally invasive method of treating advanced cancer where previously only surgery was effective.”

Belinda Lacoste, who received a bachelor of arts degree this May from the School of Continuing Studies, is a staff member who writes for the School of Science and Engineering.


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