Irreversible electroporation (IRE), sometimes called NanoKnife treatment, is a new treatment option that uses electrical currents to open the membrane around a cancer cell, destroying the cell without harming the surrounding tissue. It is performed at only a handful of centers in the United States. Doctors at University of Washington Medical Center are among the most experienced in the nation in this technique.
IRE provides a way to treat liver tumors that are close to other vital organs and structures and that cannot be removed surgically or be destroyed safely using radiofrequency ablation. This procedure is performed by a liver surgeon or an interventional radiologist, a specially trained radiologist who uses minimally invasive image-guided procedures to diagnose and treat diseases.
Needle-like probes are inserted into the tumor. An ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan is used to guide the probes to the right place. Then micropulses of electrical current are sent through the probes, causing the cell membranes to open, leading to the cells’ death.
The probes can be passed through the skin into the liver (percutaneous IRE), or they can be inserted into the liver during open surgery (through one larger incision).