Radio Frequency Ablation Guidance

This is the most exciting project we are working on.

In the last two years we have been working on developing a computerized platform for guiding Radio Frequency Ablation, a minimally invasive surgical procedure for cancer treatment.


For this project we have been able to obtain an SBIR Phase-I grant from the National Cancer Institute. This funding has been literally propelling our R&D activity in the past months.

Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) is a heat-mediated form of cancer treatment, where a specially shaped electrode is inserted inside the volume of a tumor through the skin. Radio Frequency energy is applied to the tissues through the electrode, rising temperatures and killing a volume of tissues of a diameter of 2cm to 6cm, depending on the shape of the electrode and amount of energy applied. Some electrodes are shaped like small straight shafts, others deploy an umbrella of small tines, which encompasses a volume of tissues.

While this technique has been successfully employed in the past 20 years, shortcomings exist in the fact that the pattern of killed tissues is altered by blood vessels, which remove heat from the ablation site. The effect of vessels is to alter the geometry of the ablation and to shrink the ablation volume. The risk is that of leaving untreated tissues  behind, a situation that leads to cancer recurrence.

We are building a computerized system that will identify vessels from pre-operative images and use this information to compute the exact ablation pattern, which will be displayed on screen in real-time in the operating room, allowing physicians to have a graphical and realistic representation of which tissues are treated and which not. This will make it easier for physicians to consistently kill all the malignant tissues, and reduce or eliminate the risk of recurrence.

As the computations involved are very complex and need to be performed in real-time, we are developing state-of-the-art solutions, based on the use of specialized hardware for accelerating computations.

The image at the top of the page shows the thermal field resulting from an ablation with an umbrella shaped electrode. This simulation is based on a RFA Physics Library developed by NE Scientific, which uses Graphic Processing Units (GPUs) for acceleration.

You might be interested also in reading these posts related to the project:

This post in particular: GTC Early Stage Challenge reports a summary of our presentation at the NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference 2015, and includes computer generated animations that illustrate successful and unsuccessful RFA ablations, and discusses how we are working to improve RFA.

We are posting regularly new information. Please come back to this page, and to our Technology Blog for updates on this project.

This project is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, under SBIR grant 1R43CA189515-01, and it is conducted in collaboration with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.