Image-guided ultrasound targets cancer, sparing healthy tissue

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Scientists at Sunnybrook Research Institute are developing and commercializing an MRI-guided transurethral ultrasound for the treatment of prostate cancer that may offer faster and more precise treatment for patients than existing clinical alternatives, with fewer side effects.

The new treatment uses heat from focused ultrasound to treat cancer in the prostate gland precisely while sparing the delicate noncancerous tissues around the prostate essential for healthy urinary, bowel and sexual function, according to Sunnybrook researchers Michael Bronskill, PhD, and Rajiv Chopra, PhD.

"You have to make an ultrasound heating applicator work inside a magnetic resonance imager, without the two technologies interfering with each other," said Bronskill, a professor at the University of Toronto. "The prostate cancer site is a natural for this technology because it's surrounded by structures you want to spare."

The two researchers have licensed their technologies and formed Profound Medical, which will develop the technology for clinical use.

Unlike surgical removal of the prostate, the treatment is minimally invasive and could be performed without a lengthy hospital stay. In preclinical studies, treatment takes less than 30 minutes. The therapy, on which clinicians at the Toronto-based Sunnybrook will conduct preliminary testing in preparation for a clinical trial, could help limit the number of men living with the common, debilitating and often permanent side effects of surgery and radiation treatments currently used, Bronskill and Chopra said.

The Terry Fox Foundation, Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund and Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded early-stage development of the scientists' work.