PacSci Perspectives


Surgery Without Stitches: Interventional Radiology (IR)

by | Jun 7, 2017

Surgery Without Stitches: Interventional Radiology (IR)

At Harborview Medical Center, interventional radiologist Dr. Chris Ingraham describes the origins of one of the most exciting advances in medicine: surgical procedures performed without an incision.

Fifty years ago, radiologists learned to diagnose many medical conditions by injecting dye into a patient’s bloodstream and using X-rays to pinpoint the problem. Then pioneering radiologist Charles Dotter asked, “If we can find it, why can’t we fix it?” In 1964, Dr. Dotter successfully opened a blocked blood vessel by inserting a series of Teflon catheters into the artery through a small hole in the patient’s groin, gradually widening the vessel. Instead of surgery, the patient went home with a small puncture site—and the field of interventional radiology (IR) was born.

“Only about four percent of the public know what IR is,” says Dr. Ingraham. But human anatomy is what makes IR possible. Your body has a highway of blood vessels that allow doctors to reach almost any part of you without cutting you open. Guided by a live X-ray, that shows several images per second on a screen playing like a movie, interventional radiologists enter the blood vessels with a small needle and use a series of wires, tubes, coils, and other very small tools to fix problems.

“It’s like a sophisticated, high-stakes video game,” as Dr. Ingraham describes it, “one where we can help a sick or injured patient very quickly.” Ingraham started his career as a surgery trainee at the University of Washington. “Two years into my residency,” he explains, “I switched to interventional radiology. I enjoyed the innovative thinking and the minimally invasive approach.” In addition to his practice at UW hospitals, Dr. Ingraham teaches in the IR section of the UW Department of Radiology, where he was honored as Mentor of the Year in 2014 and Radiology Teaching Faculty of the Year in 2015, as well as making Seattle Metropolitan Magazine’s List of Top Doctors in 2016.

Today, IR is being used to treat more and more conditions, sparing patients the potential trauma of major surgery. Interventional radiologists like Dr. Ingraham are saving accident victims, delivering cancer-fighting therapies directly to tumors, closing off brain aneurysms before they burst, and replacing faulty heart valves—all without cuts, stitches, or scars.

Discover how modern innovations in surgery are allowing surgical teams to repair injuries and heal diseases with less trauma to patients. We have come a long way since the 1850s, when surgery was usually a last resort and often fatal. Advances in surgical training, patient empowerment, and surgical methods may someday lead to a future where ailments that previously required surgery no longer do.

To learn more about innovations in surgery and the important research happening in our region, visit the newest exhibit inside The Studio in Wellbody Academy at Pacific Science Center. The Studio showcases local scientists’ advancements in current research through a combination of digital media, graphics, objects, and interactive displays. Exhibits change twice a year.

This exciting exhibit runs June 10 through December 3, 2017.