Engineers at the University of Washington have taken a leaf from the pages of Star Trek and are experimenting with a device similar to the tricorder that was used on the show to use untrasound to seal punctured lungs. Bones would be happy.
This is the first time anyone has ever thought of using ultrasound to treat injuries like this. There was a lot of scepticism among the scientists as to whether or not it would work because the lungs are actually composed of air sacs and it is known that air blocks the transmission of untrasound.
But that did not stop them and the new experiments show that punctures on the lung’s surface, which is the place where injuries usually occur do heal with ultrasound therapy. They have not progressed to testing it in humans yet, but the results so far are very promising.
This is not the only injury that ultrasound is being looked at to treat. Ultrasound is bloodless surgery. It works by passing a sensor over the patient and then the invisible ultrasound rays heal the wound.
They are also looking at using high-intensity focused ultrasound, that have beams that are tens of thousands of times more powerful than those used in imaging for just about anything from numbing pain to destroying cancerous tissue. With this type of treatment, the beams are focused on a particular spot inside the body. By focusing the beams like this creates a very tiny but extremely hot spot just about the same size as a grain of rice. The rays heat up the blood cells, causing them to seal up and the body tissues that are between the source of the bean and the spot do not heat up and do not get damaged.
They have performed tests with this on pigs lungs and over 95% of the incisions were stable just two minutes after the treatment.
The current treatments for lung injuries like this are very invasive and painful. Sometimes they can pack the wound an apply pressure and that will stop the bleeding, but sometimes it requires the insertion of a straw to drain out the blood so that the wound can heal. But about one out of ten patients are not lucky enough to have one of these methods work and then the only option is surgery. Even is these most difficult of cases, the ultrasound could be able to stop the bleeding and the air leaks.
Looking to the future, the researcher are hoping that doctors will be able to scan the entire body from the outside locate the injury. Focus the beam on the spot and seal the wound.
The research was funded the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.
Source: University of Washington http://uwnews.washington.edu/