Depression Clinical Trial Opens in Canada


Focused Ultrasound Clinical Trial for Depression Begins in Toronto

In a North American first, researchers at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto have launched a pilot clinical trial to determine the safety, feasibility, and preliminary efficacy of using focused ultrasound to help patients with treatment-resistant major depression.

The trial will use focused ultrasound to disrupt a key circuit in the brain long associated with major depression, by destroying a 5mm structure known as the anterior limb of the internal capsule.

“Clinicians have used neurosurgical techniques such as radiofrequency ablation, radiosurgery, and deep brain stimulation of this target in the brain and have had success in alleviating symptoms of depression,” said Neal F. Kassell, MD, chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. “Focused ultrasound is an alternative method that could produce the same results noninvasively and without the harmful effects or complications of radiation or surgery, while decreasing the cost of care.”

“Although we are in the early stages of investigating the safety and efficacy of focused ultrasound for patients with depression, it has the potential to be another treatment option, and expand the number of patients who can be treated,” says Dr. Nir Lipsman, principal investigator of the trial, and Director of the Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation at Sunnybrook.

Six patients will be treated in the trial using Insightec’s Exablate Neuro device. Patients will be assessed for severity of depression and level of functioning at one, three, six, and 12 months post-treatment.

This trial follows a similar one completed in Seoul, Korea, published in Biological Psychiatry.

The trial at Sunnybrook will be funded in part by the Foundation and builds upon the Canadian site’s impressive portfolio of research in focused ultrasound for brain disorders. In November 2016, Sunnybrook was designated as one of the Foundation’s Centers of Excellence.

Read Sunnybrook’s press release >

Videos & Media Coverage

Focused Ultrasound for Psychiatric Disorders
The trial's principle investigator, Nir Lipsman, MD, PhD, discusses how focused ultrasound may affect depression. Watch Now >
Canadian first: Scalpel-free surgery could help people with depression
Global News follows Sky as she is treated in the Sunnybrook clinical trial. Watch Now >
North American first: Researchers investigate safety of focused ultrasound to treat depression
Linda was the first patient treated in the focused ultrasound clinical trial for depression. Watch Now >
Toronto researchers testing scalpel-free brain surgery to treat depression | Global News

Procedure aims to ease symptoms in patients with treatment-resistant depression | City News

Trial procedure aims to help patients with treatment-resistant depression | Toronto Star

Patient Information

Please note this trial is open only to Canadian citizens.

If you are interested in participating in this trial, please contact Anusha Baskaran, PhD, at (416) 480-6100 ext. 1650 or

Questions? View Sunnybrook's list of frequently asked questions regarding focused ultrasound therapy for depression. 

About Depression

Major depression is a psychiatric disorder in which a person consistently experiences feelings of sadness, guilt, and worthlessness for at least two weeks. Depression can interfere with daily life, often leading to a loss of interest in activities, trouble sleeping, and impaired concentration. According to the World Health Organization, depression represents one of the largest and most important sources of human morbidity and is a major source of lost productivity and health care costs.