A team at the University of Virginia (UVA) has joined a multicenter clinical trial evaluating the safety of using focused ultrasound to enhance the delivery of chemotherapy in patients with glioblastomas (GBM).

GBM illustrationThis 20-patient clinical trial is investigating the use of focused ultrasound to temporarily and reversibly open the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in GBM patients undergoing standard chemotherapy treatment. The study at UVA is being led by Jason Sheehan, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurological Surgery and Neuroscience.

The BBB is a protective layer of tightly joined cells that lines the blood vessels in the brain and prevents harmful substances, such as toxins and infectious agents, from diffusing into the surrounding brain tissue. It can also prevent beneficial therapeutic agents from getting into the brain, which is why research has centered on using focused ultrasound to safely and temporarily disrupt this barrier.

Researchers hope that opening the BBB will allow chemotherapy to enter the brain at the tumor site in higher concentrations than would normally occur.

“Preliminary studies have demonstrated that focused ultrasound can reversibly open the [BBB] and allow for targeted drug and gene delivery to treat complex brain disorders including tumors,” said Dr. Sheehan. “When it comes to the human brain, surgery should be highly refined, and focused ultrasound appears to offer a precise and noninvasive approach to brain surgery which may improve outcomes for patients.”

“This very important trial is the next critical step in the path to developing a new approach using focused ultrasound for improving the quality and longevity of life in patients with glioblastoma by enhancing the delivery and effectiveness of chemotherapy,” said Focused Ultrasound Foundation Chairman Neal F. Kassell, MD. The Foundation is funding part of this clinical trial.

The clinical trial uses Insightec’s Exablate Neuro device, and – in addition to UVA – the study is ongoing at the University of Maryland, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and West Virginia University.

The University of Virginia was named the Foundation’s first Focused Ultrasound Center of Excellence in September 2009.

For Patients
Patients who are interested in learning more about this trial at UVA should visit their study page and contact Matthew Patterson at 434-243-7336 or

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