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University of Maryland School of Medicine Radiologists Are Using New Electric Pulse Technology to Target Tumors

Friday, May 27, 2011

 Dr. Ziv Haskal is one of the radiologists working with this new technique.

Needle-like Probes Destroy Diseased Cells But Spare Healthy Tissue

Radiologists from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, through their clinical practice at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), are using a new minimally invasive technique to treat soft tissue tumors in the liver, lung, prostate, head and neck, kidney and pancreas. The process, known as Irreversible Electroporation (IRE), offers another option for patients who have cancerous tumors that are close to blood vessels, ducts or nerves that may otherwise be damaged using other techniques, such as burning through radio frequency/microwave ablation, freezing through cryotherapy or traditional open surgery.  The University of Maryland Medical Center is one of fewer than 30 hospitals in the United States offering this treatment option and is the only facility in the mid-Atlantic region currently using the approach.

“IRE uses electrical energy to target tumors at the cellular level. Using short electrical pulses, IRE breaks open the tumor cell walls, causing these cancer cells to die,” explains Ziv Haskal, M.D., professor of diagnostic radiology & nuclear medicine and surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and chief of vascular and interventional radiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“The key difference with IRE compared to other treatments is that this electrical field does not produce extreme heat or cold. It may selectively damage the cancerous cells, sparing healthy tissue and structures that may be nearby, allowing us to provide more targeted treatment,” adds Dr. Haskal.

Doctors create a precise electrical field by first mapping the tumor using state-of-the-art computed tomography (CT) technology. The interventional radiologists have a CT scanner in the treatment room, so they are able to make up-to-the minute calculations on the size and location of the tumor.

“Once we determine the treatment area, we insert the electrode probes through the skin into the tumor, creating a field around the lesion. We then send short, intense electrical pulses - each less than 100 microseconds - between the probes, killing the tumor cells. Then the body’s normal healing response takes over, naturally producing new cells and absorbing the cells that have been targeted,” says Fred Moeslein, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of diagnostic radiology & nuclear medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and interventional radiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

IRE is performed under general anesthesia. The time it takes to place the needles varies based on the size and location of the tumor. Because the procedure is considered to be minimally invasive, recovery time may be faster when compared to some other treatments, with some soreness from the needles themselves. There is little scarring because of the way IRE causes the cancer cells to open and die, taking advantage of the body’s natural healing ability.

“This procedure is another example of the commitment of University of Maryland faculty to bring cutting-edge technology to their patients, offering them another treatment option when traditional surgery may not be effective for their particular condition,” says E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“IRE may be a viable alternative for patients with tumors in areas we call ‘high-rent’ zones, difficult-to-treat locations that may be near or touching a blood vessel, nerve or duct,” says Rahul Patel, M.D., assistant professor of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and interventional radiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Some patients with larger tumors may need more than one treatment as doctors target different parts of the lesion. A few weeks after initial therapy, the patients can return for additional treatment.

The NanoKnife® System by AngioDynamics is the first medical technology to use IRE and has received FDA clearance for the surgical ablation of soft tissue.

If you would like more information or would like to speak to one of our physicians or patients, please contact Sharon Boston at 410-328-8919 or You can also get more information or see a video about IRE on the UMMC website at


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