AHN West Penn Doctors First in Region to Use New Minimally Invasive Technology to Combat Cancer and Target Hard-to-Reach Tumors

Updated on September 10, 2023

Interventional Radiologists at Allegheny Health Network’s (AHN) West Penn Hospital are the first in the region, and among the first in the country, to use a cutting-edge new technology called the Aliya Pulsed Electrical Field (PEF) system, to target and eradicate cancer cells while preserving healthy adjacent tissues. 

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2022 for soft-tissue ablation, the Aliya system uses precise electrical pulses to destroy cancer cells. Research suggests the process also stimulates the patient’s immune system to recognize cancer DNA and target other tumors throughout the body. 

“Aliya has proven to be highly effective at breaking down cancer cell walls, which ultimately results in cell death,” said Dr. Andrew Klobuka, MD, an interventional radiologist at AHN. 

When tumor cells break down after treatment with Aliya, they release intact cancer proteins which can be recognized by the body’s immune system. This is different from older treatments that destroy not only the tumor cell walls but also the proteins inside. 

“Preliminary studies suggest that this recognition of cancer proteins by the immune system can teach the body to harness its own defense mechanisms to combat cancer elsewhere in the body,” Dr. Klobuka said. 

Irreversible electroporation (IRE) – using electrical pulses to destroy tissues or tumor cells – is an emerging form of cancer therapy. Traditional cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, can be effective in treating the disease, but each can come with significant side effects. And thermal therapy – such as using extreme heat or cold to kill cancer cells– runs the risk of damaging nearby tissues and organs, limiting its applications. 

Aliya’s electrical pulse therapy, however, can be used to safely ablate tissues in or near “no-fly zones” such as nerve bundles, the aorta, organs, and other sensitive structures. 

While electrical ablation technology has existed for about a decade, older IRE technologies required general anesthesia for patients and the use of multiple electrical probes in a process that typically took several hours. 

The new Aliya system, however, utilizes just one probe inserted through a single, 19-gauge needle – about 1 mm in width – and patients require only local anesthesia. The procedure can even be performed during a tissue biopsy.

“A procedure that used to take 3-plus hours under general anesthesia is now doable in 15 minutes,” Dr. Klobuka said. “Aliya is less invasive, more effective, orders of magnitude faster, and substantially easier to perform and undergo for physicians and patients.”

AHN West Penn began using the Aliya system in July of 2023. In that time, Dr. Klobuka has treated 3 patients with liver cancer.  

Aliya can be used as a stand-alone therapy, or in conjunction with other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgical resection. When used as a stand-alone therapy, Aliya not only spares healthy tissue, but also minimizes side effects such as pain, nausea, hair loss, and immunosuppression, that are often associated with other cancer treatments.

According to Galvanize Therapeutics, creator of the Aliya PEF System, the Aliya therapy is designed to maximize the potential for releasing tumor antigens, which can stimulate an immune response, potentially disrupting the tumor’s growth – and the growth of tumors elsewhere.  

“What we’re seeing is a systemic antibody response after the tumors are treated,” Dr. Klobuka said. “If the patient has three or four tumors, the data shows that if you treat one tumor in an easily reachable area, the other tumors will also be affected because of the immune response. That is a groundbreaking development in our ability to treat complex cancers.”

An interventional radiologist, Dr. Klobuka utilizes advanced imaging guidance to perform a variety of minimally invasive procedures. Navigating patients’ arteries and veins, he can treat a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including liver cancer, blood clots, arterial blockages, bleeding, uterine fibroids, and portal hypertension. He also performs biopsies and ablation of tumors in the liver, kidney, lung, and bone.

To learn more about interventional radiology and cancer services at AHN, visit ahn.org/services/imaging and ahn.org/services/cancer.

+ posts

Throughout the year, our writers feature fresh, in-depth, and relevant information for our audience of 40,000+ healthcare leaders and professionals. As a healthcare business publication, we cover and cherish our relationship with the entire health care industry including administrators, nurses, physicians, physical therapists, pharmacists, and more. We cover a broad spectrum from hospitals to medical offices to outpatient services to eye surgery centers to university settings. We focus on rehabilitation, nursing homes, home care, hospice as well as men’s health, women’s heath, and pediatrics.