Engineers at the University of Washington are working with doctors at the Harborview Medical Center to create a Star Trek-like "tricorder" device using high-intensity focused ultrasound rays to seal punctured lungs. A lung is essentially a collection of air sacs, and air blocks transmission of ultrasound. But experiments show that punctures on the lung's surface, where injuries usually occur, heal with ultrasound therapy.
Lenses focus the high-intensity ultrasound beams at a spot inside the body on the patient's lungs. Focusing the ultrasound beams, similar to focusing sunlight with a magnifying glass, creates a tiny but extremely hot spot about the size and shape of a grain of rice. The rays heat the blood cells until they form a seal. Meanwhile, the tissue between the device and the spot being treated does not get hot, as it would with a laser beam.
As a result, doctors can penetrate deep into the body and deliver the energy to the puncture very accurately. The ultrasound seals the leaks in one or two minutes. Ultrasound might replace what is now a painful, invasive procedure in which a drain must be inserted into the lung. In difficult cases, high-intensity focused ultrasound applied from outside could stop bleeding and air leaks.
In the future, the tool might be used for image-guided therapy, letting doctors scan the body from the outside, recognize where the injury is, focus the beam on the injury, and use the beams to seal the wound.