News

December 28, 2007

Battling Disease with High Frequency Waves

Chihyu Chen ’09 discusses his EXCEL research with Erol Ulucakli, associate professor of mechanical engineering

Chihyu Chen ’09 (Bangkok, Thailand) is pursuing B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering and physics. Over the summer, he performed EXCEL research on ways to fight cancer and heart disease with radiofrequency waves under the guidance of Erol Ulucakli, associate professor of mechanical engineering. The following is a personal account of his experiences.

I worked with Professor Ulucakli of the Mechanical Engineering Department during the summer of 2007. The project that I was introduced to was treating liver tumors by radiofrequency ablation. In this form of treatment, liver tumors that cannot be treated by surgical or radiological methods are heated to high temperatures by electrode(s) carrying radiofrequency electrical current and destroyed.

The same technique is used to treat cardiac arrhythmias by changing the properties of cardiac tissue by heating it to a moderately high temperature for a short period of time. I studied radiofrequency ablation with Professor Ulucakli to model a surgical device he has in his laboratory and find out how temperatures around the electrode change with respect to space and time. This kind of information would be very valuable to physicians and designers of the devices.

We have a surgical device in a trocar that is inserted into the tumor using ultrasound guidance. The trocar – a hollow tube of 15 cm length, contains four needle electrodes and five needle thermocouples. These needles protrude from the tip of the trocar when the trocar is fully inserted and deployed into the tumor. Electrodes are heated by a high frequency electrical current provided by a generator. Each needle electrode contains an insulated current-carrying wire. The needle diameter is a tiny 2 mm. These probes work by heating up and destroying defined volumes of tissues. Thermocouples are used to measure the temperature in the lesion.

I spent my time reading articles learning how radiofrequency probes work. I learned about the complex interactions between the tissue and the probes and discussed with Professor Ulucakli computer models that have been created to simulate the radiofrequency ablation in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinomas. I will be further studying this method of treatment and produce my own computer model using finite element analysis. I also need to verify my model in the laboratory using the animal tissue and tissue-equivalent materials.

What I got out of this experience is exposure to what research as an activity is about and how it is done. Reading through the literature, I discovered that modeling the radiofrequency ablation process is a serious area of interest to a wide group of professionals including surgeons, radiologists, oncologist, and engineers and is investigated at universities.

It’s an empowering thought to think that I can take part in such a serious topic. I’ve discovered that I could create computer models for the ablation process after learning about it, as we do have some pretty powerful modeling tools on campus. After learning about the radiofrequency ablation process sufficiently, I came to realize that I can do research and participate in a scholarly conversation on a specific topic. This EXCEL experience demystified the idea of research for me and made me decide that I want to go to graduate school and do more research.

  • Chihyu Chen ’09 Explores Behavior of Matter
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Physics
  • EXCEL/Undergraduate Research

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