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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 00:42 GMT 01:42 UK
Ultrasound to treat brain tumours
Brain scan
It can be difficult to treat brain tumours
A more effective way to destroy tumours deep inside the brain is being developed by scientists.

The technique involves focusing ultrasound waves inside the human skull.

It may also possibly be used to deliver drugs to targeted areas in the brain.

Ultrasound has traditionally been used for imaging, so to turn it into a way of treating patients is a new and interesting idea

Dr Richard Sullivan
Sending ultrasound into the brain is difficult because as the sound wave passes though the skull it scatters and gets weakened, making it hard to focus.

In the last few years there has been much research to try to assess whether its is possible to use focused ultrasound to carry out brain surgery and therapy.

For the technique to work, the ultrasound waves have to be sufficiently intense to destroy the targeted tissue, but they must not heat up the skull and other healthy tissues so much that they cause unwanted damage.

Researchers have cracked the problem by distributing the ultrasound over the entire upper surface of the skull.

They have done this using a helmet-like system containing an array of transducers which convert electrical energy into sound waves.

Imaging technology

Dr Greg Clement and Dr Kullervo Hynynen, of Harvard Medical School, have combined this technology with the use of sophisticated imaging equipment to provide them with detailed information about the skull's thickness and internal structure.

By using a mathematical formula to process the information provided by these images the scientists can predict accurately exactly how the ultrasound waves will pass through the skull.

The predictions have been shown to mirror closely actual readings taken on simulated brain tissue samples in the lab.

Dr Clement said: "There is still some way to go before the method can be used on patients, but our focusing technique is the first method to produce a sharp, controlled focus through the skull completely non-invasively and the first that shows a repeatable ability to focus through the skull."

Dr Richard Sullivan, head of clinical programmes for Cancer Research UK, told BBC News Online: "This is certainly novel work, although further research is needed to validate it in the clinic.

"Ultrasound has traditionally been used for imaging, so to turn it into a way of treating patients is a new and interesting idea."

The research is published in the Institute of Physics journal Physics in Medicine and Biology.

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