Mechanisms of Action
Focused ultrasound is a platform technology that can produce multiple biological effects either through thermal or mechanical means that act therapeutically on the target.
These effects are dependent on the nature of the tissue (e.g. muscle vs. bone) and the ultrasound parameters (power, duration, and mode—continuous versus pulsed).
The availability of a variety of biomechanisms creates the possibility of treating a variety of disorders. An overview of focused ultrasound's biological effects is available in the Foundation's white paper.
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Heating tissue denatures proteins and leads to death of all cells, regardless of whether they are normal or abnormal (i.e., tumors). The thermal dose required to produce irreversible damage and coagulative necrosis depends on the cell type, temperature and duration of exposure, ranging from one second at 56°C (130°F) to 240 seconds at 42°C (107°F). Read More
Mechanical Tissue Destruction
Focused ultrasound can also disrupt cells through purely mechanical effects with no heating. One such effect, known as cavitation, occurs when bubbles of gas oscillate in an ultrasonic field. The collapse of these bubbles is called inertial cavitation, and it can generate enough force to allow for the targeted destruction of tissue. Read More
Targeted Drug Delivery
Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption
The blood-brain barrier is a protective layer of tightly joined cells that line the blood vessels of the brain to prevent harmful toxins from entering. Unfortunately, it also prevents the delivery of beneficial drugs to diseased brain targets. Focused ultrasound can be used to disrupt this barrier in a safe, non-invasive, targeted, and reversible manner. Read More
Drug Delivery Vehicles
Drugs can be loaded into carriers such as microbubbles or liposomes. Focused ultrasound can cause the release of drugs from their carriers through either mechanical or thermal effects, only at the point where the ultrasound is focused. This increases their effect in a targeted area while minimizing their impact on the rest of the body. Read More
Increased Vascular Permeability
The endothelium creates a barrier to movement of molecules —drugs in particular —from the inside of the blood vessel to the surrounding tissue. Ultrasound increases the permeability of the blood vessels, which allows drugs to enter tissue where they would otherwise be excluded. In particular, the barrier between blood and the brain is especially dense and impenetrable, impairing the delivery of important drugs to the central nervous system. Focused ultrasound can temporarily disrupt the blood brain barrier, enhancing the possibilities for pharmacological therapy. Read More
A mild temperature elevation to 42°C (107°F) performed continuously over a few hours induces hyperperfusion, a physiological response that increases delivery of blood and drugs in the bloodstream to the targeted region. Read More
Most drugs act from the inside of cells; however, cell membranes frequently prevent drugs from entering their interior. The non-thermal effects of focused ultrasound can temporarily create pores in the cell membrane, allowing drugs to pass through the membrane and access the interior. Read More
Focused ultrasound has been shown to cause blood vessels to widen in a targeted location. This effect, known as vasodilation, is most likely caused by the release of nitric oxide induced by the change in acoustic pressure generated by ultrasound. Vasodilation increases the volume of blood flowing through a targeted region, peak systolic velocity, and permeability of blood vessels, all allowing for the more effective delivery of drugs to a specific region. Read More
Amplification of Cancer Biomarkers
Tumors release biomarkers into the bloodstream that indicate their presence in the body. These markers are usually released in very small quantities. Radiation forces from low-intensity focused ultrasound can cause the amplified release of biomarkers and aid in diagnosing cancer. Read More
The mechanical effects of focused ultrasound can interact with endothelial cells in a manner that induces angiogenesis – the process through which news blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels. Read More
Mechanical energy from focused ultrasound can cause vibrations around targeted blood clots. These vibrations make it possible to either break clots apart directly or make them susceptible to the effect of drug treatments. Read More
After a focused ultrasound tissue ablation procedure, the exposed proteins and cellular debris that remain in the body can trigger an increased immune response to the treated tumor. Read More
Ultrasound can stimulate or block neural activity without damaging the neural structures. Using pulsed, low energy focused ultrasound, it is possible to stimulate or reversibly block neural impulses. This effect has potential to block epileptic seizures and induce muscular contractions. Read More
Sensitization to Chemotherapy
Heating tumors makes them more susceptible to chemotherapy, an effect known as sensitization. Sensitization can increase the transportation of chemotherapeutic agents to the tumor and enhance their local effects while diminishing systemic damage by decreasing the dose needed to achieve clinical benefit. Read More
Sensitization to Radiotherapy
Local hyperthermia induced by focused ultrasound can increase the delivery of oxygen to tumors and enhance their metabolic rate. These effects make tumors more susceptible to radiotherapy. Read More
Certain chemical agents induce natural cell death when exposed to specific wavelengths of light or ultrasound. This mechanism is thought to be caused by the production of reactive oxygen species in cells exposed to such photosensitive and sonosensitive agents. Read More
Stem Cell Homing
The mechanical effects of focused ultrasound are capable of enhancing the homing, permeability, and retention of stem cells at a targeted site. This action occurs through an increased expression of cellular adhesion molecules and the release of chemoattractants. Read More
When focused ultrasound interacts with blood vessels with pulses of a very short duration, it can temporarily cause blood vessels to reduce in diameter. Similarly, the thermal effects of focused ultrasound can produce long term vasoconstriction, allowing for the potential to correct venous abnormalities. Read More