Researchers at Dundee University – working in collaboration with colleagues at Southampton University and Illinois Wesleyan University – used
ultrasound to exert force behind an object and pull it towards the energy source. The breakthrough has been branded a “functioning acoustic tractor beam” which could prove a major benefit in the treatment of tumors.
Dr Christine Demore, of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (Imsat) at Dundee, said: “This is the first time anyone has demonstrated a working acoustic tractor beam and the first time such a beam has been used to move anything bigger than microscopic targets. “We were able to show that you could exert sufficient force on an object around one centimeter in size to hold or move it, by directing twin beams of energy from the ultrasound array towards the back of the object.” The team used an ultrasound device that is already clinically approved for use in MRI-guided ultrasound surgery.
Dr Demore added: “Our research could lead to big advances in the application of ultrasound-based techniques in sectors such as healthcare.
“What we focus on is medical clinical applications. One of the big topics is using ultrasound surgery to treat tumors.
“Highly focused ultrasound can, like a magnifying glass, heat tissue enough to kill it. If we can push the ultrasound to the area needing to be treated, we can kill the tumor more effectively and efficiently.” She added that it could be used for chemotherapy treatment, which can have devastating effects on the body. Dr Demore said: “If we can encapsulate a drug in a bubble and push the drug to the exact area we want to treat, then it will be more effective and cause less adverse effects on bodies.” She added that the technology could also be used in the oil industry.The results of their research have been published in the journal Physical Review Letters. The team’s work was carried out as part of a £3.6 million “Electronic Sonotweezers: Particle Manipulation with Ultrasonic Arrays” program, initiated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).