July 1, 2002, Updated September 19, 2012

A magnetic resonance imaging machine locates cancer tumors and detects if they’ve been killed by ultrasound treatments.Israel-based Insightec has signed preliminary contracts with Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston to establish a research center for the non-invasive treatment of cancer tumors with focused ultrasound technology.

The agreement is conditional upon approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of the Insightec system, which is now in Phase III clinical trials. The company hopes to receive FDA approval by the end of 2002.

The system focuses a beam of sound waves that penetrates the skin to eradicate the tumors and is used with a magnetic resonance scanning device manufactured by General Electric. The Insightec treatment could replace the need for hysterectomies in treating benign and malignant cancers, and to replace surgical removal of breast cancer tumors, according to the company. Ultimately, Insightec hopes to use the technology for the treatment of brain tumors.

Insightec chief executive Dr. Jackob Vortman said the non-invasive procedure may someday make it possible to replace a host of common operations with treatment that doesn’t require surgery or hospitalization. Insightec’s system has been used successfully so far in the treatment of uterine fibroids and fibroadenomas, the most common benign growths found in the breast.

“If you think about surgery, it’s sort of medieval,” said Dr. Darrell Smith, a Harvard University radiologist who led a clinical study for Insightec at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “We’re trying to get more elegant in the way we do this. It’s kind of Star Trek in a way.”

Insightec’s systems are manufactured at a factory in Ma’alot, Israel, which also makes components for the General Electric MRI devices. Insightec will install the system at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and then charge about $2,000 per treatment.

During treatment, patients lie inside an MRI that gives a picture of the tumor while doctors guide the ultrasound focusing equipment that’s built into the MRI table. Ten-second blasts of ultrasound heat tumors to more than 140 degrees in order to kill them. Since the MRI device is heat-sensitive, it can tell doctors how much of the tumor was destroyed by the ultrasound and how much remains.

Brigham & Women’s Hospital is one of the United States’ leading medical centers in the field of gynecology, and has pioneered use of image-guided treatment techniques for various clinical procedures, including treatment of brain tumors. It also serves as a teaching hospital for Harvard University Medical School.

The Insightec treatment center is the result of extensive scientific and research collaboration involving human clinical trials between Insightec and 10 leading medical centers in the United States, Europe and Israel, including the Mayo Clinic and Brigham & Women’s in the United States, Charite Hospital in Berlin and Sheba Hospital in Tal Hashomer, Israel.

Insightec will install the same system at Sheba Hospital, which held a clinical trial where about 40 women, some of whom had been diagnosed with benign uterine tumors, underwent treatment. Sheba Hospital Director Dr. Ze’ev Rothstein termed the results of the trial “highly encouraging,” saying they show it will be possible to adopt the treatment as a non-invasive alternative to the surgical removal of tumors or to hysterectomies.

Israel-based Elbit Imaging, owns about 61 percent of Insightec and General Electric has about 17 percent of the company. Insightec also received a $4 million investment from the chief scientist of Israel’s Industry and Trade Ministry.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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