Sound for Surgery

SurgeonsIn my youth I discovered some of the less obvious applications of sound, and this was part of my attraction to the field of audio studies. Suddenly sound wasn’t just a result of striking two things together, for example. It wasn’t just music or communication – I had learnt that sound waves had the potential to do so much more, and I liked it!

Take brain surgery for example. The tool that would come to mind for most of us when we think about surgery is probably a scalpel, or possibly a saw of sorts (sorry, I know that creates some vivid and rather unpleasant imagery, but I’m trying to make a point here).

Well, this could all change thanks to sound waves. A revolutionary new approach to neurosurgery avoids both radiation and a scalpel.

The new ultrasound device, used in conjunction with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), allows neurosurgeons to precisely burn out small pieces of malfunctioning brain tissue without cutting the skin or opening the skull.

A preliminary study from Switzerland involving nine patients with chronic pain shows that the technology can be used safely in humans. The researchers now aim to test it in patients with other disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

The surgery is done using ultrasound waves – simple sound waves that are higher in frequency then the human hearing range – concentrated so much that they can heat up cells until they die.

To do this the sound waves are focussed to a single point, just like using a magnifying glass to concentrate light beams on a point where they can burn. This concentrated point can be less than a millimetre in diameter, and the surgeons can position it with extreme accuracy using an MRI scanner to guide the beam.

The focussed ultrasound technique is already being used to treat conditions such as uterine fibroids in the UK. However, the major challenge in using ultrasound in the brain is figuring out how to focus the beams through the skull, which absorbs energy from the sound waves and distorts their path. InSightec, an ultrasound technology company headquartered in Israel, has developed an experimental HIFU (High-intensity focused ultrasound) device designed to target the brain.

The InSightec device consists of an array of more than 1,000 ultrasound transducers, each of which can be individually focused. “You take a CT scan of the patient’s head and tailor the acoustic beam to focus through the skull,” says Eyal Zadicario, head of InSightec’s neurology program. The device also has a built-in cooling system to prevent the skull from overheating!

To read more on the topic, check out the links below.

I have actually written another article for another site which focusses on sound being used in an altogether different application, so perhaps I’ll grab that and post it on the Band Mate blog sometime soon. Keep an eye out.

Sources: BBC, MIT Technology Review, InMotion


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