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Non-invasive treatment of cancer by MRI-guided high-intensity focused ultrasound ablation: Volumetric Thermal Ablation (VOLTA)
Principal Investigator Prof. Dr. C.T.W. Moonen (University Medical Center Utrecht)
CTMM Program manager: Henny Bruinewoud
The VOLTA project aims to develop new technologies for the non-invasive treatment of cancer using high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to locally heat tumors to temperatures high enough to kill cancer cells – a process called thermal ablation. One of the main challenges is optimizing the temperature profile in the tumor to ensure that all cancer cells are killed.  For organs that move during treatment, a second challenge is to make sure that the ultrasound remains focused on the moving tumor.
These challenges will be addressed in the VOLTA project by combining HIFU with MRI – an imaging modality that can capture both the real-time motion of organs and accurately map the temperature of body tissue. Such maps can be used to control the heating procedure to make sure the tumor is heated adequately. Until now, HIFU has largely been used in combination with ultrasound imaging, which does not have a temperature mapping capability. In the VOLTA project, Magnetic Resonance guided High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (MRgHIFU) technology will be developed for treating breast cancer and metastases in the liver, in a non-invasive way that has the potential to replace surgical resection.
The possibility of locally heating tissue without doing harm to surrounding tissue opens a pathway towards new therapeutic strategies with improved reliability and less associated trauma, leading to improved efficacy, reduced periods of hospitalization, reduced treatment costs and improved quality of life for patients.
Professor Moonen - Chrit Moonen.jpg
Prof. Dr. Chrit Moonen
“Funding of the VOLTA project allows the development of a technology platform for MRI-guided High Intensity Focused Ultrasound for completely non-invasive treatment of malignancies in the breast and in the liver. This therapy is based on local tissue heating by sound waves and does not involve ionizing radiation.”
Chrit Moonen did his Masters in Molecular Sciences and his Ph.D. in biophysics (Wageningen University). He went for a postdoctoral period to the University of Oxford (Sir Georg Radda). He then worked at the University of California at Davis as a Visiting Research Scientist before becoming head of the NIH In Vivo NMR Research Center from 1987-1996. He moved back to Europe (Bordeaux, France) in 1996 where he has been director of the laboratory “Molecular and Functional Imaging: from Physiology to Therapy” until 2011.  He is currently professor at the Division of Imaging at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He coauthored over 150 scientific papers. H-index is 54. He was President of the “International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine” (2006), and of the “Society for Molecular Imaging” (2009).

Industrial partners
  • Philips
  • SyMO-Chem
Academic partners

Volta project presentation at the CTMM Annual Meeting September 30,2010: PDF (download)
Watch the video about the MUSIS and VOLTA projects: click here (film is in Dutch, April 2010)
Status of the Volta project end of 2009: PDF (download)
Economic and Societal benefits
  • Improved treatment of breast cancer. Unlike normal surgical procedures, MRgHIFU is expected to enable completely non-invasive local tumour ablation without leaving externally visible scars.
  • For liver metastases, MRgHIFU can replace invasive surgical procedures and/or enable treatment of patients who would otherwise be inoperable.
  • Annual cost savings are estimated to be EUR 8.25 million for breast cancer treatment because of the reduced need for hospital admission, and EUR 50 million for the treatment of patients with liver metastasis.
In response to the first call for project proposals in 2007, the Center for Translational Molecular Medicine (CTMM) announced on April 1, 2008, that nine first-call projects would receive research funding amounting to a total of 150 million Euro. On March 10, 2009, it announced that eight new project proposals, submitted in the fall of 2008 in response to the second call for proposals, will receive funding amounting to a total of almost another 100 million Euro.
All Dutch university medical centers, plus several universities, a broad spectrum of small and medium-sized enterprises, major industry leaders including Philips and DSM, and the Dutch Government are involved.
The funding is provided by the Dutch government, industry and academia. The research is focused firmly on the ‘translational’ aspects of molecular medicine so that results can be applied as quickly as possible to actual patient care.
Volta is one of the projects from the second call with a total project budget of EUR 11.0 million, of which the Dutch government contributes EUR 5.5 million.
Updated: April 9, 2013




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