MRI-guided focused ultrasound advances brain and cancer research

According to the United States Census Bureau, nearly a quarter of Americans will have reached retirement age by 2034. But as people age, the brain becomes more prone to developing conditions, such as essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease and tumors.

Clinicians and researchers are looking for emerging non-invasive ways to interact with living brain tissue that can be targeted precisely at specific areas. Focused ultrasound, guided by integrated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), is a promising new technology already being used to treat patients with a variety of movement disorders and solid tumors.

Now, with the support of a $1.8 million grant from the Edward N. & Della L. Thome Memorial Foundation, Bank of America, NA, Trustee, VTC’s Fralin Biomedical Research Institute is investing in an MRI-guided targeted ultrasound facility.

The ability to treat serious conditions in both human and animal patients that affect deep structures in the body, including the brain, without invasive surgical intervention has been a major goal of medicine for years. MRI-guided focused ultrasound provides this opportunity.”

Michael Friedlander, Vice President, Health Sciences and Technology, Virginia Tech

Friedlander is also the Executive Director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

Researchers from the institute and Virginia Tech will soon be able to conduct research to further develop this technology for improved clinical use.

The new facility, located at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute on the Virginia Tech Carilion Health Sciences and Technology Campus in Roanoke, will also be available for potential future use by physicians and veterinarians to treat their patients.

Therapeutic-targeted ultrasound procedures target tissues deep in the body — without incisions or radiation — by using sound waves to heat up particles in a specific area. The treatments are in demand and many patients are on waiting lists to receive therapy for a variety of conditions, including essential tremor and Parkinson’s-related tremor.

MRI-guided focused ultrasound can deliver precisely focused energy to relieve symptoms associated with several conditions that are more common with aging.

Recently, a team of scientists from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, led by biomedical engineer and associate professor Stephen LaConte, worked closely with Insightec and Siemens Healthineers to integrate Siemens’ magnetic resonance imaging with Insightec’s focused ultrasound system.

Friedlander said this research investment will help Virginia Tech and collaborators improve treatments for neurodegenerative disorders, as well as for the treatment of certain solid tumors, to improve human and animal health.

“With the generous support of the Thome Foundation, we will bring together Virginia Tech’s expertise in neuroscience, cancer research, biomedical engineering and veterinary medicine to catalyze innovation in this important area for modern medicine,” Friedlander said. “There will be increasing opportunities to apply the discoveries and technological innovations in the clinic that will emerge from this interdisciplinary research program.”

In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first focused ultrasound device to treat essential tremor in patients who had not responded to medication. During this procedure, clinicians use the device to create tiny thermal lesions in an area of ​​the brain that causes tremors, often eliminating this symptom immediately and painlessly for patients.

Researchers continue to study ways to apply MRI-guided focused ultrasound to avert a variety of solid tumor types. In December 2020, the FDA approved targeted ultrasound to relieve pain in patients, including children, with bone tumors called osteoid osteomas.

Researchers at the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, where Virginia Tech will open a brain cancer screening program this fall, also plan to use MRI-guided focused ultrasound in brain tumor clinical trials to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, allowing cancer-targeted drugs to pass through this protective layer in the brain and deliver powerful therapies.

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