Noninvasive sound technology developed at the University of Michigan breaks down liver tumors in rats, kills cancer cells, and spurs the immune system to prevent further spread—an advance that could lead to improved cancer outcomes in humans.
By destroying only 50% to 75% of liver tumor volume, the rats’ immune systems were able to clear away the rest, with no evidence of recurrence or metastases in more than 80% of animals.
“Even if we don’t target the entire tumor, we can still cause the tumor to regress and also reduce the risk of future metastasis,” said Zhen Xu, professor of biomedical engineering at U-M and corresponding author of the study.
Results also showed the treatment stimulated the rats’ immune responses, possibly contributing to the eventual regression of the untargeted portion of the tumor and preventing further spread of the cancer.
The treatment, called histotripsy, noninvasively focuses ultrasound waves to mechanically destroy target tissue with millimeter precision. The relatively new technique is currently being used in a human liver cancer trial in the United States and Europe.
In many clinical situations, the entirety of a cancerous tumor cannot be targeted directly in treatments for reasons that include the mass’ size, location or stage. To investigate the effects of partially destroying tumors with sound, this latest study targeted only a portion of each mass, leaving behind a viable intact tumor. It also allowed the team, including researchers at Michigan Medicine and the Ann Arbor VA Hospital, to show the approach’s effectiveness under less than optimal conditions.
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