Physicians usually rely on surgery or drugs to bust blood clots in the brain that might otherwise cause a stroke, but sound waves might provide a third noninvasive choice. U.S. researchers have begun testing an Israeli ultrasound device to see whether it may prove accurate enough to break up a clot without causing collateral damage in the brain, Technology Review reports.
Strokes represent the third most common cause of death in the U.S., and occur when a blood clot prevents blood from reaching the brain. Only drugs or surgical intervention can remove the clots in time to prevent serious brain damage or death, but fewer than 10 percent of patients usually fit the requirements to undergo those procedures.
The company InSightec has created a focused ultrasound device that looks like a helmet, studded with over 1,000 ultrasound transducers. Each of the transducers can focus an individual beam into the brain of the helmet-wearer and converge on a spot just four millimeters wide–enough accuracy to dissolve a blood clot within less than a minute.
Thilo Hoelscher, a neurologist at the University of California at San Diego, has already led a team in testing the InSightec device on blood clots in animals and in the skulls of human cadavers. Now they must figure out how to dissipate unwanted heating in the skull, as well as find a good way of pinpointing blood clots for precision targeting of the ultrasound beams.
We previously got a look at the InSightec device and its use in destroying diseased brain tissue. But this latest application will push the envelope of the machine’s precision even more, and perhaps help modern medicine tackle an even greater health threat. The U.S. researchers hope to begin busting blood clots in human trials by 2011.
[via Technology Review]