Objectives: The treatment of liver cancer is a major public health issue because the liver is a frequent site for both primary and secondary tumors. Rib heating represents a major obstacle for the application of extracorporeal focused ultrasound to liver ablation. Magnetic resonance (MR)-guided external shielding of acoustic obstacles (eg, the ribs) was investigated here to avoid unwanted prefocal energy deposition in the pathway of the focused ultrasound beam.
Materials and methods: Ex vivo and in vivo (7 female sheep) experiments were performed in this study. Magnetic resonance-guided high-intensity focused ultrasound (MRgHIFU) was performed using a randomized 256-element phased-array transducer (f∼1 MHz) and a 3-T whole-body clinical MR scanner. A physical mask was inserted in the prefocal beam pathway, external to the body, to block the energy normally targeted on the ribs. The effectiveness of the reflecting material was investigated by characterizing the efficacy of high-intensity focused ultrasound beam reflection and scattering on its surface using Schlieren interferometry. Before high-intensity focused ultrasound sonication, the alignment of the protectors with the conical projections of the ribs was required and achieved in multiple steps using the embedded graphical tools of the MR scanner. Multiplanar near real-time MR thermometry (proton resonance frequency shift method) enabled the simultaneous visualization of the local temperature increase at the focal point and around the exposed ribs. The beam defocusing due to the shielding was evaluated from the MR acoustic radiation force impulse imaging data.
Results: Both MR thermometry (performed with hard absorber positioned behind a full-aperture blocking shield) and Schlieren interferometry indicated a very good energy barrier of the shielding material. The specific temperature contrast between rib surface (spatial average) and focus, calculated at the end point of the MRgHIFU sonication, with protectors vs no protectors, indicated an important reduction of the temperature elevation at the ribs' surface, typically by 3.3 ± 0.4 in vivo. This was translated into an exponential reduction in thermal dose by several orders of magnitude. The external shielding covering the full conical shadow of the ribs was more effective when the protectors could be placed close to the ribs' surface and had a tendency to lose its efficiency when placed further from the ribs. Hepatic parenchyma was safely ablated in vivo using this rib-sparing strategy and single-focus independent sonications.
Conclusions: A readily available, MR-compatible, effective, and cost-competitive method for rib protection in transcostal MRgHIFU was validated in this study, using specific reflective strips. The current approach permitted safe intercostal ablation of small volumes (0.7 mL) of liver parenchyma.