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Focused Ultrasound Therapy

Focused ultrasound is a noninvasive, therapeutic which is transforming the treatment and quality of life for patients with glioblastoma. This novel technology focuses beams of ultrasonic energy precisely and accurately on targets deep in the brain without damaging surrounding normal tissue.

How it Works
Where the beams converge, the ultrasound produces a variety of therapeutic effects enabling treatment without incisions or radiation. Several different approaches are currently in consideration for glioblastoma, and these will be briefly discussed.

Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) Disruption
The BBB is normally a protective barrier for the brain, preventing adverse agents that may be in the blood stream from gaining unfettered access to the brain. However, in the setting of glioblastoma, the BBB may still be intact, especially around the peripheral regions of the tumor, and preventing therapeutic agents (like chemotherapy) from accessing this area in sufficient quantities for maximal effect. The temporary disruption of the BBB in the targeted area enables enhanced penetration by the therapeutic agent, and following the treatment, the BBB will re-form, typically in about a day.

Sonodynamic Therapy (SDT)
Certain agents that were originally used as visual dyes to help surgeons differentiate between tumor and normal tissue, have been found to be altered after treatment by focused ultrasound, resulting in materials that are toxic to the tumor in the local area. These agents are also accumulated in tumor cells, which maximizes the detrimental effect on the targeted tissue. Clinical trials are using this technique are to provide targeted therapy to certain tumors, including glioblastomas.

Combination with Radiation
The combination of focused ultrasound and radiation has been shown to enhance the effectiveness of radiation. The joint use of these regimens is being used in patients with recurrent glioblastoma.

Thermal ablation is one of the earliest mechanisms of action for focused ultrasound, and it is currently in use for other neurologic indications. While it was in use in some earlier clinical trials for glioblastoma, the recent efforts have shifted to the above mechanisms.

Sono-Sensitive Agents
The use of sound sensitive, ultrasound packages that can carry a variety of therapeutic agents throughout the body, and only release them when they encounter focused ultrasound is a very attractive model for treating a wide variety of diseases, including glioblastoma. This mechanism is being studied in body cancers and preclinical brain lesions currently, and it is likely to be used in clinical trials soon.

Current treatments for glioblastoma include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, all of which have limitations and side effects.

Focused ultrasound, used alone or in combination with conventional therapies, has the potential for several advantages.

  • Focused ultrasound is non-invasive, so it does not carry added concerns like surgical wound healing or infection.
  • Focused ultrasound can reach the desired target without damaging surrounding tissue.
  • Focused ultrasound does not include the use of ionizing radiation
  • Focused ultrasound enables enhanced chemotherapy dose for the target, with less impact to the rest of the patient.
  • It can be repeated, if necessary.

Clinical Trials

The following clinical trials are recruiting patients with brain tumors for focused ultrasound treatment:

Exablate Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption With Carboplatin for the Treatment of rGBM
New clinical trials have opened in the United States, Canada, Israel, Italy, and Korea that use focused ultrasound to temporarily open the blood brain barrier (BBB) prior to carboplatin therapy for patients with recurrent glioblastoma.

Exablate Blood Brain Barrier Disruption (BBBD) for Planned Surgery in Glioblastoma
This clinical trial is a planned continuation of a prior study that will open blood-brain barrier prior to surgery in patients with glioblastoma.

An Ultrasound-Based Blood Brain Barrier Opening Clinical Trial Using Albumin Bound Paclitaxel to Treat Recurrent Glioblastoma
This invasive procedure that is similar to focused ultrasound uses an implanted device to treat patients with recurrent glioblastoma.

Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption (BBBD) for Liquid Biopsy in Subjects With GlioBlastoma Brain Tumors
A clinical trial for patients with Glioblastoma for liquid biopsy has also begun recruiting patients.

BRAINFUL (BRAIN Tumor Focused Ultrasound-enabled Liquid Biopsy) Trial
This clinical trial is capturing liquid biopsy data from a wide variety of tumors from patients in Canada. This study is only open to Canadian citizens.

The following studies concern focused ultrasound and sonodynamic therapy.
A study of sonodynamic therapy for patient with high grade glioma
A clinical trial in the US is using sound activated drugs to treat patients with recurrent high grade glioma, including glioblastoma.

A study of sonodynamic therapy in glioblastoma
This study is using sonodynamic therapy in patients with progressive or recurrent glioblastoma.

A study of sonodynamic therapy in patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma
This study will use low frequency focused ultrasound to activate drugs in patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma.

A study of 5-ALA in patients with recurrent high grade glioma
This study will use ultrasound to activate 5-ALA in adults with recurrent high grade glioma.

The following study concerns tumors in pediatric patients.
A clinical trial by Carthera is treating pediatric patients with recurrent malignant brain tumors in France.

For a full list of known brain tumor clinical trials, please see here.

See a list of treatment sites >
See a list of clinical trials sites >
See a list of laboratory research sites >

Regulatory Approval and Reimbursement

Focused ultrasound is not approved by any regulatory bodies worldwide as a treatment for brain tumors, nor is the treatment reimbursed by medical insurance providers.

Preclinical Laboratory Studies

Preclinical studies are underway to investigate the use of various mechanisms of focused ultrasound in the treatment of brain tumors. Examples of these studies include:

  • Focused ultrasound to temporarily disrupt the BBB and deliver a variety of chemotherapy or immunotherapy drugs, including the dosing and timing (e.g. frequency) of drug administration.
  • Focused ultrasound to induce an immune response, including a multi-site study investigating the type of immune response elicited by different “modes” of energy delivery.
  • Focused ultrasound to enable targeted delivery and/or activation of drugs via carrier vehicles (e.g. microbubbles, nanoparticles, liposomes) to enable delivery of high concentrations in the tumor with minimal systemic side effects.
  • Non-thermal mechanical destruction of tumor using a type of focused ultrasound called histotripsy.

Additional Resources

There are many government bodies and patient groups dedicated to brain tumors, including the following:

Notable Papers

Habashy KJ, Dmello C, Chen L, Arrieta VA, Kim KS, Gould A, Youngblood MW, Bouchoux G, Bell Burdett KB, Zhang H, Canney M, Stupp R, Sonabend AM. Paclitaxel and Carboplatin in Combination with Low-Intensity Pulsed Ultrasound for Glioblastoma. Clin Cancer Res. 2024 Jan 31. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-23-2367. PMID: 38295144 

Cai Q, Fan H, Li X, Giannotta M, Bachoo R, Qin Z. Optical Modulation of the Blood-Brain Barrier for Glioblastoma Treatment. Bio Protoc. 2024 Jan 20;14(2):e4920. doi: 10.21769/BioProtoc.4920. eCollection 2024 Jan 20. PMID: 38268976 

Chen KT, Huang CY, Pai PC, Yang WC, Tseng CK, Tsai HC, Li JC, Chuang CC, Hsu PW, Lee CC, Toh CH, Liu HL, Wei KC. Focused ultrasound combined with radiotherapy for malignant brain tumor: a preclinical and clinical study. J Neurooncol. 2023 Dec;165(3):535-545. doi: 10.1007/s11060-023-04517-x. Epub 2023 Dec 7. PMID: 38060066 

Keenlyside A, Marples T, Gao Z, Hu H, Nicely LG, Nogales J, Li H, Landgraf L, Solth A, Melzer A, Hossain-Ibrahim K, Huang Z, Banerjee S, Joseph J. Development and optimisation of in vitro sonodynamic therapy for glioblastoma. Sci Rep. 2023 Nov 18;13(1):20215. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-47562-2. PMID: 37980454 

He C, Wu Z, Zhuang M, Li X, Xue S, Xu S, Xu J, Wu Z, Lu M. Focused ultrasound-mediated blood-brain barrier opening combined with magnetic targeting cytomembrane based biomimetic microbubbles for glioblastoma therapy. J Nanobiotechnology. 2023 Aug 26;21(1):297. doi: 10.1186/s12951-023-02074-z. PMID: 37626360 

Sonabend AM, Gould A, Amidei C, Ward R, Schmidt KA, Zhang DY, Gomez C, Bebawy JF, Liu BP, Bouchoux G, Desseaux C, Helenowski IB, Lukas RV, Dixit K, Kumthekar P, Arrieta VA, Lesniak MS, Carpentier A, Zhang H, Muzzio M, Canney M, Stupp R. Repeated blood-brain barrier opening with an implantable ultrasound device for delivery of albumin-bound paclitaxel in patients with recurrent glioblastoma: a phase 1 trial. Lancet Oncol. 2023 May;24(5):509-522. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(23)00112-2. PMID: 37142373 

Bonosi L, Marino S, Benigno UE, Musso S, Buscemi F, Giardina K, Gerardi R, Brunasso L, Costanzo R, Iacopino DG, Maugeri R. Sonodynamic therapy and magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound: new therapeutic strategy in glioblastoma. J Neurooncol. 2023 May;163(1):219-238. doi: 10.1007/s11060-023-04333-3. Epub 2023 May 14. PMID: 37179515 

Sun T, Krishnan V, Pan DC, Filippov SK, Ravid S, Sarode A, Kim J, Zhang Y, Power C, Aday S, Guo J, Karp JM, McDannold NJ, Mitragotri SS. Ultrasound-mediated delivery of flexibility-tunable polymer drug conjugates for treating glioblastoma. Bioeng Transl Med. 2022 Nov 19;8(2):e10408. doi: 10.1002/btm2.10408. eCollection 2023 Mar.

Zhang Y, Wang J, Ghobadi SN, Zhou H, Huang A, Gerosa M, Hou Q, Keunen O, Golebiewska A, Habte FG, Grant GA, Paulmurugan R, Lee KS, Wintermark M. Molecular Identity Changes of Tumor-Associated Macrophages and Microglia After Magnetic Resonance Imaging-Guided Focused Ultrasound-Induced Blood-Brain Barrier Opening in a Mouse Glioblastoma Model. Ultrasound Med Biol. 2023 Jan 28:S0301-5629(22)00666-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ultrasmedbio.2022.12.006.

Porret E, Kereselidze D, Dauba A, Schweitzer-Chaput A, Jegot B, Selingue E, Tournier N, Larrat B, Novell A, Truillet C. Refining the delivery and therapeutic efficacy of cetuximab using focused ultrasound in a mouse model of glioblastoma: an 89Zr-cetuximab immunoPET study. Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 2022 Dec 15:S0939-6411(22)00300-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpb.2022.12.006.

Wang J, Li Z, Pan M, Fiaz M, Hao Y, Yan Y, Sun L, Yan F. Ultrasound-mediated blood-brain barrier opening: An effective drug delivery system for theranostics of brain diseases. Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2022 Nov;190:114539. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2022.114539. Epub 2022 Sep 15.

Lee H, Guo Y, Ross JL, Schoen S Jr, Degertekin FL, Arvanitis C. Spatially targeted brain cancer immunotherapy with closed-loop controlled focused ultrasound and immune checkpoint blockade. Sci Adv. 2022 Nov 16;8(46):eadd2288. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.add2288. Epub 2022 Nov 18.

Hersh AM, Bhimreddy M, Weber-Levine C, Jiang K, Alomari S, Theodore N, Manbachi A, Tyler BM. Applications of Focused Ultrasound for the Treatment of Glioblastoma: A New Frontier. Cancers (Basel). 2022 Oct 8;14(19):4920. doi: 10.3390/cancers14194920.

Bastiancich C, Fernandez S, Correard F, Novell A, Larrat B, Guillet B, Estève MA. Molecular Imaging of Ultrasound-Mediated Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption in a Mouse Orthotopic Glioblastoma Model. Pharmaceutics. 2022 Oct 19;14(10):2227. doi: 10.3390/pharmaceutics14102227.

Pandey N, Anastasiadis P, Carney CP, Kanvinde PP, Woodworth GF, Winkles JA, Kim AJ. Nanotherapeutic treatment of the invasive glioblastoma tumor microenvironment. Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2022 Sep;188:114415. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2022.114415. Epub 2022 Jul 3.

Josowitz AD, Bindra RS, Saltzman WM. Polymer Nanocarriers for Targeted Local Delivery of Agents in Treating Brain Tumors. Nanotechnology. 2022 Sep 30. doi: 10.1088/1361-6528/ac9683.

Shen Y, Hu M, Li W, Chen Y, Xu Y, Sun L, Liu D, Chen S, Gu Y, Ma Y, Chen X. Delivery of DNA octahedra enhanced by focused ultrasound with microbubbles for glioma therapy. J Control Release. 2022 Aug 18;350:158-174. doi: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2022.08.019.

Zhu M, Wu P, Li Y, Zhang L, Zong Y, Wan M. Synergistic therapy for orthotopic gliomas via biomimetic nanosonosensitizer-mediated sonodynamic therapy and ferroptosis. Biomater Sci. 2022 Jul 12;10(14):3911-3923. doi: 10.1039/d2bm00562j.

Wang F, Dong L, Liang S, Wei X, Wang Y, Chang L, Guo K, Wu H, Chang Y, Yin Y, Wang L, Shi Y, Yan F, Li N. Ultrasound-triggered drug delivery for glioma therapy through gambogic acid-loaded nanobubble-microbubble complexes. Biomed Pharmacother. 2022 Jun;150:113042. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2022.113042. Epub 2022 May 2.

Dong L, Li N, Wei X, Wang Y, Chang L, Wu H, Song L, Guo K, Chang Y, Yin Y, Pan M, Shen Y, Wang FA Gambogic Acid-Loaded Delivery System Mediated by Ultrasound-Targeted Microbubble Destruction: A Promising Therapy Method for Malignant Cerebral Glioma. Int J Nanomedicine. 2022 May 3;17:2001-2017. doi: 10.2147/IJN.S344940. eCollection 2022. PMID: 35535034

Roberts JW, Powlovich L, Sheybani N, LeBlang S. Focused ultrasound for the treatment of glioblastoma. J Neurooncol. 2022 Mar 10. doi: 10.1007/s11060-022-03974-0. Online ahead of print. PMID: 35267132

Brighi C, Salimova E, de Veer M, Puttick S, Egan G. Translation of focused ultrasound for blood-brain barrier opening in glioma. J Control Release. 2022 Mar 23;345:443-463. doi: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2022.03.035.

Mathew EN, Berry BC, Yang HW, Carroll RS, Johnson MD. Delivering Therapeutics to Glioblastoma: Overcoming Biological Constraints. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Feb 2;23(3):1711. doi: 10.3390/ijms23031711.

Gould A, Zhang D, Arrieta VA, Stupp R, Sonabend AM. Delivering albumin-bound paclitaxel across the blood-brain barrier for gliomas. Oncotarget. 2021 Dec 7;12(25):2474-2475. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.28018. eCollection 2021 Dec 7.

Samuel N, Vetkas A, Pancholi A, Sarica C, Loh A, Germann J, Harmsen IE, Tasserie J, Milano V, Yamamoto K, Kalia SK, Kongkham PN, Lozano AM. A Network-Based Approach to Glioma Surgery: Insights from Functional Neurosurgery. Cancers (Basel). 2021 Dec 5;13(23):6127. doi: 10.3390/cancers13236127. 

Paun L, Moiraghi A, Jannelli G, Nouri A, DiMeco F, Pallud J, Meling TR, Momjian S, Schaller K, Prada F, Migliorini D. From Focused Ultrasound Tumor Ablation to Brain Blood Barrier Opening for High Grade Glioma: A Systematic Review. Cancers (Basel). 2021 Nov 10;13(22):5614. doi: 10.3390/cancers13225614. 

Schoen S Jr, Kilinc MS, Lee H, Guo Y, Degertekin FL, Woodworth GF, Arvanitis C. Towards controlled drug delivery in brain tumors with microbubble-enhanced focused ultrasound. Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2021 Nov 18;180:114043. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2021.114043. 

Sheybani ND, Witter AR, Garrison WJ, Miller GW, Price RJ, Bullock TNJ. Profiling of the immune landscape in murine glioblastoma following blood brain/tumor barrier disruption with MR image-guided focused ultrasound. J Neurooncol. 2021 Nov 3. doi: 10.1007/s11060-021-03887-4. 

Meng Y, Pople CB, Budiansky D, Li D, Suppiah S, Lim-Fat MJ, Perry J, Sahgal A, Lipsman N. Current state of therapeutic focused ultrasound applications in neuro-oncology. J Neurooncol. 2021 Oct 18. doi: 10.1007/s11060-021-03861-0.

Lu N, Gupta D, Daou BJ, Fox A, Choi D, Sukovich JR, Hall TL, Camelo-Piragua S, Chaudhary N, Snell J, Pandey AS, Noll DC, Xu Z. Transcranial Magnetic Resonance-Guided Histotripsy for Brain Surgery: Pre-clinical Investigation. Ultrasound Med Biol. 2021 Oct 4:S0301-5629(21)00404-X. doi: 10.1016/j.ultrasmedbio.2021.09.008.

Rincon-Torroella J, Khela H, Bettegowda A, Bettegowda C. Biomarkers and focused ultrasound: the future of liquid biopsy for brain tumor patients. J Neurooncol. 2021 Oct 6. doi: 10.1007/s11060-021-03837-0.

Wang F, Dong L, Wei X, Wang Y, Chang L, Wu H, Liu S, Chang Y, Yin Y, Luo X, Jia X, Yan F, Li N. Effect of Gambogic Acid-Loaded Porous-Lipid/PLGA Microbubbles in Combination With Ultrasound-Triggered Microbubble Destruction on Human Glioma. Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2021 Sep 15;9:711787. doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2021.711787. eCollection 2021. PMID: 34604184

Jimenez-Gambin S, Jimenez N, Pouliopoulos A, Benlloch JM, Konofagou EE, Camarena F. Acoustic holograms for bilateral blood-brain barrier opening in a mouse model. IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 2021 Sep 27;PP. doi: 10.1109/TBME.2021.3115553.

Anastasiadis P, Gandhi D, Guo Y, Ahmed AK, Bentzen SM, Arvanitis C, Woodworth GF. Localized blood-brain barrier opening in infiltrating gliomas with MRI-guided acoustic emissions-controlled focused ultrasound. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Sep 14;118(37):e2103280118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2103280118.

Liu S , Zhang W , Chen Q , Hou J , Wang J , Zhong Y , Wang X , Jiang W , Ran H , Guo D. Multifunctional nanozyme for multimodal imaging-guided enhanced sonodynamic therapy by regulating the tumor microenvironment. Nanoscale. 2021 Sep 7;13(33):14049-14066. doi: 10.1039/d1nr01449h. Epub 2021 Jul 23.

Liao WH, Hsiao MY, Kung Y, Huang AP, Chen WS. Investigation of the Therapeutic Effect of Doxorubicin Combined With Focused Shockwave on Glioblastoma. Front Oncol. 2021 Jul 28;11:711088. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.711088. eCollection 2021.

Bunevicius A, Pikis S, Padilla F, Prada F, Sheehan J. Sonodynamic therapy for gliomas. J Neurooncol. 2021 Jul 12. doi: 10.1007/s11060-021-03807-6.

Kim C, Guo Y, Velalopoulou A, Leisen J, Motamarry A, Ramajayam K, Aryal M, Haemmerich D, Arvanitis CD. Closed-loop trans-skull ultrasound hyperthermia leads to improved drug delivery from thermosensitive drugs and promotes changes in vascular transport dynamics in brain tumors. Theranostics. 2021 May 24;11(15):7276-7293. doi: 10.7150/thno.54630. eCollection 2021.

Raspagliesi L, D’Ammando A, Gionso M, Sheybani ND, Lopes MB, Moore D, Allen S, Gatesman J, Porto E, Timbie K, Franzini A, Di Meco F, Sheehan J, Xu Z, Prada F. Intracranial Sonodynamic Therapy With 5-Aminolevulinic Acid and Sodium Fluorescein: Safety Study in a Porcine Model. Front Oncol. 2021 Jun 21;11:679989. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.679989. eCollection 2021.

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Clinical Trials