Irreversible electroporation

Dr Tim Luijkx et al.

Irreversible electroporation (IRE), also known as non-thermal irreversible electroporation (NTIRE), is a non-invasive soft-tissue ablation technique used for tumour ablation in regions that require very high precision and preservation of surrounding structures.


In IRE electrodes are placed in tumour cells where they alter transmembrane potentials. This leads to permanent porous channels in the cell membranes causing irreversible damage and subsequently apoptosis. Apoptosis is a much more controlled way of cell death as opposed to necrosis. This is why the surrounding cells, vessels are spared 1,2.

IRE involves accurate parallel placement of at least two electrodes and is, therefore, more challenging than other ablation techniques. Other challenges include the potential need for general anaesthesia due to the occurrence of whole-body muscle spasms and synchronisation with the cardiac refractory period to prevent cardiac arrhythmias, which have been described with IRE 3.

The major advantages of IRE are its applicability near structures that are susceptible to thermal injuries, such as bile ducts (hence its use in tumours in liver and pancreas) and vessels due to a decrease in the heat-sink effect. These advantages may provide a treatment option for tumours that would otherwise not have been candidates for ablation.

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Article information

rID: 38967
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • IRE
  • Non-thermal irreversible electroporation (NTIRE)
  • Non-thermal irreversible electroporation

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