Andrew Brayman

Principal Physicist

CIMU Department


Keith Chan

UW Radiology

Brian MacConaghy

Physicist IV

CIMU Department


Tom Matula

Senior Principal Physicist

CIMU Department


Affiliate Assistant Professor, Bioengineering and Affiliate Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering

Yak-Nam Wang

Research Scientist Engineer - Principal

CIMU Department


Research Funding

Life Sciences Discovery Fund


National Institutes of Health

Non-invasive Treatment of Abscesses with Ultrasound

Is there a way we can eliminate the bacteria in an abscess without the need of a catheter drain?

We know what we need to do to treat these fluid collections. And that's to induce violent bubble activity, which will chew up the bacteria in suspension.

In lab experiments a ten-minute HIFU treatment wipes out a billion bacteria, essentially driving them to extinction.

The Problem

Abscesses are walled-off collections of fluid and bacteria within the body. They are common complications of surgery, trauma, and systemic infections. Typical treatment is the surgical placement of a drainage catheter to drain the abscess fluid over several days.

Dr. Keith Chan and researchers at APL-UW's Center for Industrial + Medical Ultrasound are exploring how to treat abscesses non-invasively, that is, from outside the body, with high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU).

This experimental therapy could reduce pain, radiation exposure, antibiotic use, and costs for patients with abscesses. Therapeutic ultrasound could also treat abscesses too small or inaccessible for conventional drainage.

E. coli suspensions after (left) and before (right) treatment.

Untreated and HIFU treated whole human pus stained to reveal alive and dead bacteria. In the untreated samples, the green stain shows viable bacteria and leukocytes. In the treated sample, the HIFU appears to have killed the leukocytes and reduced them to lytic debris, and killed the bacterials cells while leaving the population relatively intact. Scale bar = 20 micometers.

Potential Benefits


Non-invasive therapy

Ability to treat small abscesses

Less procedural pain

No drainage catheter management

Lower risk of infection

Eliminates imaging radiation


Minimize risk of injury and complications

No drainage catheter management

Treatment for septate or loculated abscesses

Reduce treatment time

Treatment for abscesses too viscous for drainage

Minimal additional training

Insurance Providers

Shorten hospitalization

Outpatient treatment

Reduced specialist effort

No surgical disposables

No operating room or CT imaging time