Ultrasound breakthrough in surgery

December 3, 1999

Chinese scientists claim to have developed a radical ultrasound technique for destroying cancer tumours. It is to be assessed by British scientists.

The team of experts from the Chongqing University of Medical Sciences in Sichuan Province say they have found a way to focus high intensity sound waves inside living human tissue at millimetre levels of precision.

Tumours can then be targeted and destroyed by this non-invasive surgical technique, leaving healthy tissue untouched. Scientists in the West have also attempted to tackle tumours using ultrasound but have not been able to target and focus the beam within living tissue with enough accuracy.

The Chinese scientists have been holding discussions with British ultrasound experts and cancer surgeons in a series of meetings last week and there are now plans to ship some of their equipment to the United Kingdom to test their claims.

Tim Mason, an ultrasound expert at Coventry University and an honorary professor at Chongqing University, visited China and said the technique seemed promising.

He said: "What the doctors appear to have achieved is to focus the ultrasound sufficiently to attack the tumour without damaging the surrounding health tissue.

"An effective, non-invasive technique of destroying tumours without damaging healthy tissue has been sought for some time. At Chongqing they appear to have discovered just such a technique, which, if it works, could revolutionise the treatment of cancer. However, it must be emphasised that until the equipment has been subjected to rigorous trials outside China, this technology cannot be considered for cancer therapy in the West."

The Chinese medical team has published research on animal trials and say they have since treated more than 150 patients in clinical trials. It seems to be most effective in neutralising breast, liver and bone cancers.

Many other groups of scientists, including teams at Imperial College and the Institute of Cancer Research in the UK, are pursuing practical high intensity focused ultrasound therapies.

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