Brain surgery, with a scalpel made of sound

Brain surgeons may soon have a shiny new tool to play with, a device that can kill damaged brain tissue by zapping it with high-intensity ultrasound. The device is being developed by the ultrasound technology company InSightec. From Technology Review:

The major challenge in using ultrasound in the brain is figuring out how to focus the beams through the skull, which absorbs energy from the sound waves and distorts their path. The InSightec device consists of an array of more than 1,000 ultrasound transducers, each of which can be individually focused. “You take a CT scan of the patient’s head and tailor the acoustic beam to focus through the skull,” says Eyal Zadicario, head of InSightec’s neurology program.

The ultrasound beams are focused on a specific point in the brain–the exact location depends on the condition being treated–that absorbs the energy and converts it to heat. This raises the temperature to about 130 degrees Fahrenheit and kills the cells in a region approximately 10 cubic millimeters in volume.

Hooked in to the device are both a cooling system to prevent overheating and a MRI so that the surgeons can see in real-time where they are shooting brain tissue. A question, though, can the device be modified to become a macabre beam-weapon, exploding brains right and left, or is it to clunky a device to carry around? Just wondering.


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