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Science and Technology

Freezing out cancer and maybe asthma

Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center are freezing out certain kinds of cancers and precancerous lesions with a tiny camera, a catheter and a special kind of spray. Traditional forms of cryotherapy (using liquid nitrogen to freeze and eliminate harmful tissue) are very localized. truFreeze, new to UC Health, enables doctors to treat larger surfaces.

Ed Dennis of Ft. Thomas had a large area needing treatment. He has Barrett's esophagus, a disorder where the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid, putting the patient at greater risk for cancer. He is awaiting his third treatment at UC from thoracic surgeon Valerie Williams. She hooks up a catheter to the truFreeze machine. It's threaded through an endoscope and the liquid freezes to -196 C. The nitrogen kills the bad cells and keeps the connective tissue intact, so new cells can regenerate.

Once Dr. Williams has the affected area in sight, she steps on a pedal to deliver the spray. "It turns white as it freezes and then before your eyes you can see it thaw and then it turns white again when you freeze it again and it thaws and you kind of get this beefy red appearance to the tissue that you know you've treated that area."

Typically the treatment is given in an average of three sessions. Patients have moderate sedation.

Here's how it works:

With all that freezing and thawing, what is Mr. Dennis feeling? "I don't feel nothin, or see nothin, or hear nothin and when they're done. They wake you up and send you home. I'm just grateful to have it done, then one day find out I had cancer, that couldn't be dealt with, you know."

Dr. Sadia Benzaquen, a UC interventional pulmonalogist is using truFreeze to remove cancerous tumors in the airway. One day he thinks this cryotherapy could be used to treat asthma. "I cannot say we are treating asthma right now with this, but hopefully in the future we can have other applications.