GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new non-invasive technique developed at the University of Michigan to treat certain cancers, avoiding chemotherapy, radiation and even surgery.

The technique is called histotripsy, stemming from the Greek terms of histo and tripsy. Histo means soft tissue and tripsy means to break down.

The tool, called Edison, uses focused ultrasound pulses to destroy its target without impacting the surrounding tissue. The ultrasound causes bubbles to grow in the tiny gas pockets within the target tissue, causing it to expand and eventually collapse under the stress, destroying the cells.

For now, it has been approved for treatment on liver tissue and cancers. Dr. Mishal Mendriatta-Lala, the principal investigator on the Edison clinical trial, says she is thrilled with this next step.

“Histotripsy is an exciting new technology that, although it is in early stages of clinical use, may provide a non-invasive treatment option for patients with liver cancer. Hopefully, it can be combined with systemic therapies for a synergistic therapeutic effect,” Mendriatta-Lala said.

The tool’s researchers believe it could be the next frontier in surgery because the tool doesn’t make any incisions, which means a faster recovery time and no scars. It doesn’t require sedation, which is safer for the patient. The procedures take less time than surgery and eventually could be offered as an outpatient treatment.

A black and white screen that shows two 45-degree vectors and a small set of crosshairs that indicate exactly where the Edison's ultrasound is pointing.
A view of the computer screen that doctors use to identify the target for the Edison. (Courtesy Michigan Medicine)

The Edison is currently owned by HistoSonics, a company co-founded in 2009 by a group of engineers and doctors from the University of Michigan. The team, led by Mendriatta-Lala, started a clinical trial at the university’s Rogel Cancer Center in 2021.

Aside from destroying tumors, studies show histotripsy treatments can actually help the body’s immune system learn how to identify cancerous cells.

“In the first study, even after destroying only 50% to 75% of the liver tumor volume by histotripsy, the rats’ immune systems were able to clear away the rest, with no evidence of recurrence or metastases in more than 80% of animals,” the university said in a blog post. “A second study showed that histotripsy breaks down the cancer cell wall’s ‘cloak’ — revealing proteins that the immune system can use to identify threats, known as antigens. (Unlike histotripsy) these antigens are removed during surgery or destroyed during chemotherapy and radiation.”

With the FDA approval, the Edison can now be sold to hospitals and other medical professionals for liver treatments. Dr. Zhen Xu, a co-founder of HistoSonics, believes that is only scraping the surface of the tool’s potential, saying simply, “I think it really will change the practice of medicine.”

“We want to leverage histotripsy’s immuno-stimulation effects and, hopefully, combine them with immunotherapy or drug deliver,” Xu said in a release. “That will move histotripsy from a local therapy into one that can treat tumors globally all over the body and eventually into a cure. In terms of the cancer treatment, that will be the next step, and I feel very excited about the potential.”