Resonant Microwave Ablation

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This design idea proposes looking at cancer tumors as an electrical engineering problem and use simple techniques to detect and treat them using common lab equipment and RF energy (i.e. cell phone signals). Information available estimates more than 180,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year, with over 41,000 deaths resulting annually. This rate has risen drastically from just 1 in 20 (in 1960) to 1 in 8 (in 2006). By exploiting currently available technology used in industry, low cost (under $10K) diagnostic and treatment devices can be developed and made available to doctor’s offices and clinics anywhere. Most importantly it will bring low cost preventative screening to the low income and underprivileged areas that greatly need it.
There are many approaches to using microwave energy to detect and treat cancer. Most treatment techniques use brute-force heating through coax probes to deliver 2.45 GHz signals directly to the tumor, cooking it the same way the microwave oven can cook a piece of chicken. However, a tumor is a small, very dense mass usually surrounded by healthy tissue and as a result will have a distinct frequency response to electromagnetic signals, which is related to its size. There will be frequencies that a tumor will naturally vibrate at (electronically) and these resonances will show up as sharp spikes in the loss as the tumor absorbs the signal. Broadband swept frequency measurements are done regularly in the RF industry using Network Analyzers that can easily detect the narrow resonances in tumors as small as 0.5mm.
The presence of the tumor is detected because it naturally resonates and absorbs the RF signal due to its lossy nature. Once the specific frequency a given tumor resonates at is found, the test equipment can be tuned to that frequency and the power can be increased, causing the tumor to heat up or be destroyed. Given the resonant nature of the absorption, the heating is greatly amplified when the resonant frequency is applied (like a wine glass that shatters when an opera singer belts out just the right note). Instead of using brute-force heating at 2.45 GHz like a microwave oven does, the tumor can be cooked much faster and with less power by picking the “right” microwave signal. Additionally, the initial computer simulations show that the tumor can be both detected and treated from outside the body non-invasively. While the initial study focused on breast cancer, tumors in the lungs and other areas are no different.
If the preliminary results hold true, this will open up an entirely new market to RF test equipment manufacturers and more importantly allow relatively low cost, effective diagnostic equipment to be made available to doctors and patients that do not normally have access to expensive diagnostic testing. The equipment requires no expensive facility, emits no harmful radiation, and uses no drugs or other chemicals. The basic Network Analyzer technology already exist, is safe, portable, and can easily be reconfigured to detect tumors with little operator training.


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  • Name:
    Thomas Ellis
  • Type of entry:
  • Hardware used for this entry:
    Agilent VNA
    Software used for this entry:
    Ansoft HFSS, SEMCad, MathCAD
  • Patent status: