Waterloo experts are developing new cancer treatments with high-intensity focused ultrasound

Researchers are bringing the use of acoustic waves to target and destroy cancerous tumors closer to reality.

While doctors have been using low-intensity ultrasound as a medical imaging tool since the 1950s, experts at the University of Waterloo are using and expanding models that help capture how HIFU (High Intensity Focused Ultrasound) may work at the cellular level.

Led by Siv Sivaloganathan, an applied mathematician and researcher at the Fields Institute’s Center for Math Medicine, the study found by running mathematical models in computer simulations that fundamental problems in technology can be solved without any risk to real patients.

Sivaloganathan, along with his graduate students June Murley, Kevin Jiang and postdoctoral fellow Maryam Ghasemi, create the mathematical models used by engineers and physicians to put HIFU into practice. He said his colleagues in other areas are interested in the same issues, “but we’re coming here from different directions.”

“My side of it is to use math and computer simulations to develop a solid model that others can use in labs or clinical settings. And while the models aren’t nearly as complex as human organs and tissue, the simulations give a huge head launch for clinical trials.”

One of the hurdles that Sivaloganathan is currently trying to overcome is that HIFU in fighting cancer also poses risks to healthy tissue. When HIFU is used to destroy tumors or cancerous lesions, the hope is that good tissue is not destroyed. The same goes for focusing the intense acoustic waves on a tumor on the bone where a lot of heat energy is released. Sivaloganathan and his colleagues are trying to understand how the heat dissipates and whether it damages the bone marrow.

Other researchers working with Sivaloganathan include engineers, who build the physical technology, and physicians, in particular, James Drake, chief surgeon at Hospital for Sick Children, who is looking at the practical application of HIFU in clinical settings.

Sivaloganathan believes that HIFU will make significant changes in cancer treatments and other medical procedures and treatments. HIFU is already finding practical application in the treatment of some prostate cancers.

It’s an area that I think is going to be central to clinical medicine. It does not have the negative side effects of radiation therapy or chemotherapy. There are no side effects other than the effect of heat, which we are now working on. It also has applications as a new way to break up blood clots and even deliver drugs.”

Siv Sivaloganathan, Applied Mathematician and Researcher, Center for Math Medicine, Fields Institute

Sivaloganathan’s new research paper on mathematical modeling for HIFU, “Dimension estimation of uniform attractor for a model of focused ultrasound-induced high-intensity thermotherapy,” with co-authors Messoud Efendiyev and June Murley, was recently published in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.


Reference magazine:

Efendiev, MA, et al. (2021) Dimension estimation of uniform attractor for a model of focused ultrasound-induced high-intensity thermotherapy. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology. doi.org/10.1007/s11538-021-00928-x.

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