To offer patients an alternative to invasive surgery and radiation, a Northwest Austin company is working to freeze away the unhealthy cells.
HealthTronics, a mobile medical technology company headquartered near Avery Ranch, has been in Austin for about 15 years. The business was originally created by a group of urologists coming together to focus on treating kidney stones, President Russell Newman said. Since then the company’s vision has grown to include access to almost any organ and works toward treating cancerous cells.
HealthTronics started offering mobilized cryotherapy, or cold-based, treatment in 2008 and started manufacturing the equipment in 2009.
“It’s a less invasive approach than other treatments,” Newman said. “The prostate in particular used to be an open surgery. Now it’s much more minimally invasive. There’s a number of different things we can treat in the body without having to open up patients.”
The facility manufactures the probes and mobile units that are used in the cryoablation procedures, in which cells are frozen to death, he said. Through ultrasound imaging, the thin probes are placed through the skin into the area being treated. All the needed technology is included in the mobile unit, which is 40 inches high and able to be wheeled around. The system includes a console for ultrasound imaging during the procedure.
Newman said the therapy is not for everyone, but it can be beneficial for a variety of patients, including those seeking cancer treatment after radiation has failed.
“We’ve seen pretty much every tissue go from a whole-gland treatment to something less. We’ve seen it in breasts, kidneys, so it’s happening in other places, too,” he said. “Cryo is just a really good technology for us to be able to locate and isolate cancerous cells.”
The cryo treatment is also quicker than radiation. Although people undergoing radiation must return for several rounds of treatment, Newman said one session of cryoablation is typically all that is required.
Argon gas is fed through the tubes to the probes and is frozen at their tips, creating an ice ball that can be adjusted in size. Placing eight probes together can form a larger ice ball, in some cases 4 inches across.
“If you have a can of compressed air and you freeze the can for a little while, soon you start to see some frost around the bottom,” Newman said. “That’s basically what’s happening at the end of our probe. … Ice is really quite therapeutic within the body. The body adapts to it very well. It’s a much better experience for the patient rather than going in and burning something out of them.”
HealthTronics serves 2,500 facilities throughout the country with its mobile units. There are about 40 of the cryotherapy machines that travel from facility to facility, and another 150 that are at fixed locations.
“We have specially designed vehicles to transport those. We provide a service where a clinician or specialist wheels that machine in and out of the [operating room], helps set it up and guide the procedure,” Newman said. “When it’s over, they take it away. It’s a pretty valuable service to the hospital because they’re not having to spend money and invest in all the technology.”
Around Austin, Newman said the company works with Seton Healthcare, Urology Austin, Urology Team and various groups in the region.