Dr. Neal Kassell, a University of Virginia neurosurgeon, had an “Aha” moment about seven-and-a-half years ago. “The UVA neurosurgeon was struggling with the challenge of treating certain brain tumors too deep for the knife and too big for targeted radiation,” reported C-Ville’s Graelyn Brashear in her article (“Ultrasound foundation speeds medical advances”) published August 21, 2012. “At the same time, he was researching how to use sound waves to measure blood flow in the brain.”
A Life Saving Application
Dr. Kassell thought he had a “Nobel Prize-winning idea” when he made the connection that ultrasound waves could be harnessed to treat brain tumors. It turns out he wasn’t the first to come up with this, as research into focused ultrasound in surgical settings has been studied for decades. But Dr. Kassell’s epiphany was not fueled by a desire for accolades, but to help as many patients as possible.
This prompted Dr. Kassell to found the Focused Ultrasound Surgery Foundation (FUSF) in October 2006. The foundation’s mission, according to the FUSF website, is “to develop new applications for focused ultrasound, and accelerate its worldwide adoption,” especially since it takes so long for new, beneficial medical technologies (capable of saving lives) to be approved and employed.
A major part of FUSF’s mandate is to provide funding to focused ultrasound research and clinical trials and to finance and facilitate educational workshops and symposiums. For example, in October 2012, it was announced that the FUSF would be providing Dr. Elisa Konofagou of Columbia University in New York $100,000 towards her research on how focused ultrasound can facilitate drug administration for neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and MS.
Focused ultrasound combines two imaging technologies: magnetic resonance (MR) and high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU). The MR component is used to visually locate the area to be targeted and guide the procedure in real time. The HIFU component is used “to concentrate up to 1000 intersecting beams of ultrasound energy with extreme precision on a target deep in the body as small as 1 mm in diameter… where the beams converge on the target they have an effect, just as the converging beams of light will burn a hole in a leaf,” states the FUSF website.
Currently, the FDA has already approved the use of focused ultrasound to treat uterine fibroids. In Europe, the technology is CE-approved for treating both uterine fibroids and pain associated with bone metastases.
Clinical trials and research is literally taking place all over the world, from Stanford University School of Medicine in California and the University of Miami in Florida to Rede D’Or in Rio de Janeiro, Charité Hospital in Berlin and Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. Studies foci range from focused ultrasound treating prostate and breast cancer to Parkinson’s and epilepsy.