Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison are working to commercialize a new technology that could yield less invasive radiation therapies for cancer patients using ablation.

Current microwave ablation systems heat up an antenna inserted into tissue to cook cancerous tumors using electromagnetic energy. But, these antennas must be relatively large in size in order to produce the low-frequency radiation believed necessary for effective ablation.

Attempting a different approach, electrical and computer engineers ran simulations to learn more about the limitations of higher frequency microwave ablation, and discovered that high-frequency microwaves could in fact offer a comparable ablation zone to existing low-frequency antennas.

They are using their initial findings to design smaller ablation antennas that can reach tumor sites through less invasive methods. In addition to making shorter antennas, they discovered that they could also make narrower ones by eliminating a bulky component called a balun, which controls the flow of current and converts balanced signals to unbalanced signals. The team found that operating antennas at a different resonant frequency creates a natural chokepoint that can control current without a balun.

These miniaturized antennas could allow surgeons to get an antenna to a tumor site by routing a catheter through a patient’s circulatory system, which is far less invasive than delivering the ablation probe through open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. Additionally, surgeons could use arrays of small antennas to customize ablation treatments for specific cancers and patient needs.