Fralin Biomedical Research Institute is investing in an MRI-guided focused ultrasound system with the support of the Edward N. & Della L. Thome Memorial Foundation

By 2034, nearly a quarter of Americans will have reached retirement age, according to the United States Census Bureau. But as you get older, the brain becomes more prone to developing disorders like essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease, and tumors.

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

Now, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at the VTC is investing in an MRI-focused with the support of a $ 1.8 million grant from the Edward N. & Della L. Thome Memorial Foundation, Bank of America, NA, trustee Ultrasound system.

“The ability to treat severe diseases in human and animal patients that affect deep structures in the body, including the brain, without invasive surgery has been a major medical goal for years,” said Michael Friedlander, vice president Health at Virginia Tech Science and Technology and the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “The MRI-guided focused ultrasound offers this possibility.”

Researchers at the Institute and across Virginia Tech will soon be able to conduct research to advance this technology for improved clinical application.

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.

Therapeutically focused ultrasound procedures target tissue deep in the body – without cuts or radiation – by using sound waves to heat particles in a specific region. Treatments are in high demand and many patients are on waiting lists to receive therapy for a variety of conditions, including essential tremor and Parkinson’s-associated tremor.

MRI-guided focused ultrasound can deliver precisely targeted energy to relieve symptoms associated with several disorders that are more common as we age.

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 into Insightec’s focused ultrasound system.

Friedlander said this research investment will help Virginia Tech and its staff improve treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, as well as 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,” said Friedlander. “The opportunities to apply the knowledge and technological innovations resulting from this interdisciplinary research program in the clinic are increasing all the time.”

In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first focused ultrasound machine 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 instantly and painlessly eliminating this symptom for patients.

Researchers are continuing to explore ways to use MRI-guided focused ultrasound to ablate a variety of solid tumor types. In December 2020, the FDA approved focused ultrasound for pain relief in patients, including children, with bone tumors called osteoid osteomas.

Researchers at Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, where Virginia Tech will launch a brain cancer research research program this fall, also plan to use MRI-guided focused ultrasound in brain tumor clinical trials to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier to cancer-targeting Drugs to pass this protective layer in the brain and deliver effective therapeutics to the target.

This is the first Thome Foundation scholarship to be awarded to Virginia Tech.


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