Focused ultrasound may offer non-invasive treatment for neurological diseases

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 - brain

What do you get when you put together a monkey, a computer and a moving yellow square? Surprisingly, a neuroscience study that marks the first time ultrasound technology has been safely used to alter brain activity while simultaneously avoiding the destruction of brain tissue.  

According to a recent article by The Independent, findings from a study conducted by Stanford University researchers were presented at this year's Society for Neuroscience annual meeting held in Washington, D.C., in November. The reserach offers evidence showing how ultrasound could be a non-invasive form of treatment for patients with neurological diseases such as Parkinson's, epilepsy and depression, according to the article. 

“The idea that, with a very carefully designed dose, you could actually deliver [focused ultrasound] and stimulate the brain in the place you want and modulate a circuit, rather than damage it, is a really important proof of principle,” said Helen Mayberg, MD, professor of psychiatry, neurology and radiology at Emory University School of Medicine, who was not involved with the study. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could tune [brain circuitry] with ultrasound and don’t have to open the brain? That would avoid surgery and the need for periodically changing batteries."  

Specifically, this study utilized the 13-year-old U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved focused ultrasound (FUS), which concentrates 1,000 sound waves on a specific target.  

“I think the first opportunity is on the diagnostic side,” said Jan Kubanek, a neural engineer at Stanford University School of Medicine and lead author of the macaque study. “Disease circuitry might be variable across patients; if we can specifically stimulate regions deep in the brain and measure the reduction of tremor, that would [tell us that region is] involved in that behavior.”  

Today, FUS is able to treat more than 90 different disease and disorders.  

“There are 18 ways, or mechanisms of action, by which focused ultrasound affects tissue. That fact creates the opportunity to treat a whole variety of medical disorders,” said Neal Kassell, MD, former co-chair of neurosurgery at the University of Virginia and founder and chair of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation.

According to the article, though, FUS has since only been used to target and destroy tissue with heat and just recently was approved in 2016 to be used for ablation treatment in the brain.  

Howard Eisenberg, MD, professor and chief of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine expressed excitement about using FUS to open the blood-brain barrier to allow for drug delivery motivated by the study findings, according to the article. He further explained that perfection of the using FUS in the brain could open new doors to look deeper into neurological connectivity and diseases and improve overall diagnosis.