Guest column

New technology gives this Houston hospital a competitive edge

A new prostate cancer treatment at Houston Methodist is enhancing the system's patient care. Getty Images

As the top ranking hospital in Texas and one of the biggest employers in Houston, Houston Methodist Hospital is poised to treat the thousands of Texan men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year.

Building on its legacy of delivering advanced cancer treatment, the healthcare giant is one of the first hospitals in the United States to offer men a benign approach to treating localized prostate cancer, using high intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU. HIFU is a minimally invasive procedure that allows patients to maintain their quality of life with potentially fewer side effects.

Changing the standard of care

For decades, men diagnosed with prostate cancer have had three ways to manage their disease. The first is watchful waiting or active surveillance. Prostate cancer is often slow growing and may not impact the patient during his lifetime. Despite reassuring data in large randomized trials, some patients are still uncomfortable with a diagnosis of cancer and prefer treatment.

On the other end of the spectrum is the complete treatment of the prostate, which involves either surgically removing the entire organ (radical prostatectomy) or radiation, which can last up to eight weeks, with five rounds of treatment per week. Both treatments are known to cause long term erectile dysfunction and incontinence.

But for men diagnosed with localized prostate cancer, this new HIFU treatment bridges the gap between these three approaches. Unlike diagnostic ultrasound, which people are more familiar with, HIFU uses high-frequency sound waves to heat up and burn cancerous tissue, causing cell death. Think of holding a magnifying glass above a leaf on a sunny day. The sun's rays shine through the lens and cause the leaf to burn.

New and improved

Courtesy of Houston Methodist

With HIFU, the urologist destroys the cancerous tissue without damaging other surrounding structures, which include nerves, blood vessels and muscle tissue. While HIFU has only been able to treat the entire prostate or large areas, Houston Methodist has a new technology, called the Focal One, that can zero in on specific areas to treat. The doctor can draw precise contours around the diseased tissue, destroy only that portion of the prostate and minimize any damage to surrounding tissue. This further decreases the possibility of incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

A competitive edge

Focal One gives Houston Methodist Hospital urologists the ability to plum the depths of something until recently considered heresy. The possibility of focal therapy to ablate only the diseased portion of the prostate is similar to performing a lumpectomy to remove only the diseased tissue of the breast in breast cancer. And focal therapy still leaves doctors with the options of radical surgery or radiation, should the cancer return. They don't necessarily burn any bridges.

Although focal HIFU treatment is available around the world for localized prostate cancer and studies in Europe have demonstrated its safety and efficacy, there are no long term follow up data in the U.S. at this time. So far, treatment complication rates in HIFU have shown to be as good as or better than other therapies. But urologic surgeons in the US generally need 10 years of data to establish focal therapy as a standard treatment, which is why it is important for cancer centers that embrace HIFU to enroll patients in an ongoing registry trial.


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Brian Miles, M.D, is a practicing urologist and professor of urology at the Institute for Academic Medicine at Houston Methodist.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kyle Judah is executive director of Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Photo courtesy of Lilie

When Kyle Judah accepted his position as executive director at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, he had spent less than 48 hours in the city of Houston. In fact, his first two months in the role have been spent completely remote and out of town.

Still, his limited in-person interaction with the city and with Rice made an impact.

"One of the things I found so exciting about what's going on in Houston right now that, quite frankly, was incredibly attractive about the opportunity to come and join Lilie and Rice was that Houston has these big pillar companies in energy and health care and all these critical areas that the world, the economy, and the society needs," Judah says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's all in Houston right now."

Judah and Lilie's goal is to help identify the innovation happening on campus at Rice and bring it to the world. And, he says, Rice as a whole has a huge place in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem. The challenge is identifying what industries Houston and Rice have an opportunity to disrupt.

"We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

Another priority Judah has leading Lilie, which was founded at Rice in 2015, is to make sure opportunities are available for everyone. This month, the university launched the Rice Experiment Fund — a $500 semesterly stipend available to all students. The funds are meant to be used on early market testing and experiments, which can be prohibitive obstacles for students.

"We want to make sure that the diversity of entrepreneurship at Rice speaks to the diversity of the city in our backyard," says Judah, adding that diversity and inclusion is at the top of mind for programs like this.

Judah shares more on where he plans to lead Lilie and his early impressions on Houston's startup scene in the podcast episode. Overall, he's found it extremely welcoming.

"I found that everyone here wants Houston to win," he says. "We're really playing as a broader collective, and that's incredibly special."

You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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