Ultrasound to Mend Punctured Lungs

It ain't just for fetus-watching anymore. Engineers from the University of Washington have devised a way to use ultrasound to seal lung punctures. Typically, wounded lungs can be healed when enough pressure is applied to staunch the bleeding. Occasionally doctors have to suction out blood and air from the surrounding area. But in about one-tenth of the cases, extremely invasive operations are needed: ribs have to be separated, long incisions are necessary, the damaged portion is either sewn up or removed. With ultrasound, however, doctors can direct a high-intensity beam at the wound to seal up the fissure [using the hand held device at left]. The heat bonds blood cells even while tissue separating the wound and device stay cool.

Thus far, the treatment has been tested only on pigs' lungs where no more than a couple of minutes were needed to stabilize the "patient." But previously, it's been successful in closing human blood vessels and stemming bleeding spleens. Doctors hope the treatment could have a range of applications in the future, possibly revolutionizing internal medicine altogether. Sounds promising. Till then, presumably, be prepared to don a curly tail if you want the treatment.—Abby Seiff