The utilization of ultrasound technology in medicine dates back to the 1940's. Since this time, its application in the form of sonography has vastly expanded to many medical disciplines for routine diagnostic imaging. Perhaps one of the most common and recognized uses of ultrasound is the visualization of the fetus during pregnancy. While the use of ultrasound has expanded, it has mainly remained a tool for visualization or diagnostic procedures; however, advancements in ultrasound technology more recently, has led to the formation of something called high-intensity focused ultrasound (FUS) to venture into the realm of therapeutics.
Ultrasound is quite unique; though it has a number of limitations with regards to medical imaging, it does provide real-time visualization, is relatively cost effective, safe and has recently been manufactured into pocket sized versions. It is perhaps worthy to point out to its safety yet again: it does not require contrast infusion (non-invasive) and it does not emit x-ray radiation. Ultrasound works by emitting cyclical pulses of sound which are reflected as they travel back to the source. This reflection is picked up and an image is created from it.
Over the years, researchers have been working to develop high-intensity focused ultrasound that is able to focus, as the the name suggests, a great amount of energy on a specific location, resulting in heat production and subsequent destruction of that specific area -- effectively leaving no trail of damage along its path. Benefits of this new technology include being able to target and destroy specific lesions in difficult to reach areas (eg. specific intracranial locations) with high precision -- a form of "incisionless surgery".
This technology has potential for wide application, including the treatment of movement disorders (ie essential tremor) by targeting specific intracranial lesions, cancer treatment which may save an organ from complete removal, and targeting neuropathic pain. There are numerous studies for other applications currently underway and I am excited to see the results. The discussion of this new innovation is the highlight of a TED talk by Yoav Medan I watched some time ago and I encourage you to take the time and check it out.