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You may not realize it, but the tumor ablation market is booming. Treatments destroying cancer through heat, freezing, microwaves, and radio frequency therapy are expected to be valued at $3.2 billion by 2026. And among these, radio frequency therapy or ablation comprises about a third of the market. With 14 percent of the global population suffering from cancer, it is clear why that might be the case.

While radio frequency therapy is a hot ticket, so is precision medicine. Individualizing care for patients based on specific needs and presentations reflects a key goal in developing new cancer treatments. While this case involves genetics in part, it also relates to other aspects of patients’ care. For new cancer treatments, precision medicine involves providing the right treatment at the right time. And interestingly, this fact is where some innovative ideas have emerged in relation to radio frequency therapy.

a photo of a patient lying down on a bed beside a machine while waiting to undergo radio frequency therapy
Individualizing care for patients based on specific needs and presentations reflects a key goal in developing new cancer treatments.

Understanding the Impact of Radio Frequency Therapy and Ablation

Radio frequency therapy uses an ablation procedure that involves heating a tumor using radio waves. As a minimally invasive treatment, radio frequency therapy is usually placed in the central portion of a solid tumor.

This new cancer treatment then generates heat that destroys tumor cells without affecting surrounding healthy tissue. Overall, radio frequency therapy has been beneficial in combination with other therapies in treating certain specific cancer types.

The tumors that have been most targeted by radio frequency therapy are those that are solid in nature and difficult to reach. This new cancer treatment has changed the way some cancers are now being treated—including tumors found in the lungs, liver, breasts, prostate, and pancreas. But radio frequency therapy and ablation still have limitations. And for this reason, new cancer treatment approaches with this technique are being considered.

a photo quote of Brad Hanks related to the new cancer treatment care from the innovations stemming from radio frequency therapy
Brad Hanks, Doctoral Student and Graduate Research Assistant, Penn State University

New Cancer Treatment Approaches Using Radio Frequency Therapy

Recently, at the Penn State University’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, a breakthrough in radio frequency therapy was discovered by a team. Brad Hanks, a doctoral student from the department, developed a new endoscopic radio frequency therapy device for treating pancreatic cancer. In fact, this new cancer treatment technique ablates as much as 55 percent more tumor than standard approaches. For tumors like pancreatic tumors, the discovery of this new cancer treatment is very important because response rates depend on the completeness of tumor destruction.

Hanks’ novel idea involved the design of radio frequency therapy electrodes that spread out within the tumor after being endoscopically placed. The normal radio frequency therapy pattern of ablation looks elliptical, yet most tumors are spherical in nature.

This fact means much of the tumor may avoid radio frequency therapy waves. By spreading the electrodes within the tumor, however, the radio frequency therapy better matches the actual tumor shape.

a photo of a radio frequency therapy device pointed to a tumor found in the brain of a patient who is lying down and undergoing new cancer treatment care
The integration of mechanical engineering expertise and healthcare therapies are helping advance precision medicine opportunities.

Unlocking Opportunities for Precision Medicine and New Cancer Treatments

The new cancer treatment uses finite element analysis and evolutionary algorithms to better match radio frequency electrodes to actual tumor shape. Because of this, radio frequency therapy is more personalized and specific to the individual’s needs. This factor explains the increased amount of tumor destruction using this new cancer treatment when compared with prior techniques. Notably, the integration of mechanical engineering expertise and healthcare therapies are helping advance precision medicine opportunities.

Of course, the mechanical engineering team is not satisfied with their current efforts. Hanks is exploring how to use 3D printing to better create radio frequency therapy electrodes that match tumors more precisely. Regardless, the new cancer treatment is being further developed commercially for widespread use.

Specifically, Actuated Medical, a certified woman-led company in Pennsylvania, is partnering with the university to develop the medical device. Ultimately, this should further advance precision medicine care for cancer patients in the future.

a photo quote of Mary Frecker related to the new cancer treatment care from the innovations stemming from radio frequency therapy
Mary Frecker, Ph.D., Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Bioengineering, Penn State University

The Advancing Role of Radio Frequency Therapy as a New Cancer Treatment

Given the anticipated growth of the tumor ablation market, a number of big players already exist. Companies like Medtronic, Boston Scientific Corporation and Covidien, among others, have been recognized as market leaders. But with partnerships between universities and smaller medical device companies, great opportunities in this market will continue to exist. As precision medicine and radio frequency therapy techniques merge, better cancer care will be realized. And this will be better achieved through collaboration among academic institutions and industry sectors moving forward.

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