Background: Irreversible electroporation (IRE) is a novel technology that uses peri-target discrete probes to deliver high-voltage localized electric current to induce cell death without thermal-induced coagulative necrosis. "Learnability" and consistently effective results by novice practitioners is essential for determining acceptance of novel techniques. This multi-center prospectively-collected database study evaluates the learning curve of IRE.
Methods: Analysis of 150 consecutive patients over 7 institutions from 9/2010-7/2012 was performed with patients treated divided into 3 groups A (1(st) 50 patients treated), B (2(nd) 50) and C (3(rd) 50 patients treated) chronologically and analyzed for outcomes.
Results: A total of 167 IRE procedures were performed, with a majority being liver(39.5%) and pancreatic(35.5%) lesions. The three groups were similar with respect to co-morbidities and demographics. Group C had larger lesions (3.9 vs 3 cm,p=0.001), more numerous lesions (3.2 vs 2.2,p=0.07), more vascular invasion(p=0.001), underwent more associated procedures(p=0.001) and had longer operative times(p<0.001). Despite this, they had similar complication and high-grade complication rates(p=0.24). Attributable morbidity rate was 13.3%(total 29.3%) and high-grade complications were seen in 4.19%(total 12.6%). Pancreatic lesions(p=0.001) and laparotomy(p=0.001) were associated with complications.
Conclusion: The review represents that single largest review of IRE soft tissue ablation demonstrating initial patient selection and safety. Over time, complex treatments of larger lesions and lesions with greater vascular involvement were performed without a significant increase in adverse effects or impact on local relapse free survival. This evolution demonstrates the safety profile of IRE and speed of graduation to more complex lesions, which was greater than 5 cases by institution. IRE is a safe and effective alternative to conventional ablation with a demonstrable learning curve of at least 5 cases to become proficient.