Although surgeries that involve nary a slice or a stitch have heretofore been limited to science fiction, doctors in Switzerland announced that they've successfully performed closed-skull brain surgery on 9 patients using only sound waves.

The Swiss scientists used a technology developed to kill uterine fibroids without surgery that an Israeli company modified for use in the brain, according to the MIT Technology Review. That company, Insightec, combined the high-intensity focused ultrasound technology used on the fribroids with CT scans and MRIs to allow doctors to focus on the part of the brain they wish to excise and see the results in real time. Eyal Zadicario, head of InSightec's neurology program, said:

You take a CT scan of the patient's head and tailor the acoustic beam to focus through the skull.

Technology Review elaborates:

The device also has a built-in cooling system to prevent the skull from overheating.

The ultrasound beams are focused on a specific point in the brain—the exact location depends on the condition being treated—that absorbs the energy and converts it to heat. This raises the temperature to about 130 degrees Fahrenheit and kills the cells in a region approximately 10 cubic millimeters in volume.

In effect, the high-intensity focused ultrasound cauterizes a specific, internal section of the brain, destroying the tissue completely.


The nine patients in the Swiss study suffered from chronic pain that couldn't be treated with medications; the ultrasound surgery successfully destroyed a small area of their thalamus, bringing relief from the pain without other, significant side effects. They hope to start testing the machine on Parkinson's patients, in an effort to bring them relief from some of the the physical side effects of that disease.

Brain Surgery Using Sound Waves [MIT Technology Review via Live Science]