Focused Ultrasound Can Help Propel the Cancer Moonshot

Written by Jessica L. Foley, PhD and Neal F. Kassell, MD

There are several ways in which the Foundation is contributing to the Moonshot.

    • We foster collaboration within the focused ultrasound community and beyond through working groups and consortium projects in specific research areas such as focused ultrasound for immunotherapy of cancer.
    • We organize workshops to bring together multidisciplinary groups of researchers to share ideas and form collaborative projects that advance focused ultrasound for treatment of specific cancers, such as glioblastomas, or that harness the technology’s ability to amplify the immune response or enhance the delivery of chemotherapy.
    • Almost half of the scientific sessions at our 5th International Symposium on Focused Ultrasound were dedicated to cancer topics including an inspiring call to action from Executive Director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force Greg Simon.

  • We are organizing and funding clinical trials using focused ultrasound to treat tumors including those of the brain, head and neck, and thyroid. In addition, we support preclinical projects using focused ultrasound’s mechanisms of enhanced immune response and drug delivery to treat glioblastomas and metastatic cancers (e.g. pancreatic, breast, melanoma).
  • We raise awareness of focused ultrasound and foster collaboration among a wide group of stakeholders including patients, clinicians, industry, payers, government, foundations and philanthropists.
  • We multiply our impact through partnerships with like-minded foundations such as the Cancer Research Institute and the Melanoma Research Alliance.
  • Foundation Chairman Dr. Neal Kassell serves on the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel and has helped to develop recommendations for the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot Task Force.

We are excited to foster new collaborations and help advance focused ultrasound to become a mainstream treatment for a variety of cancers.

We applaud Vice President Biden and his Cancer Moonshot vision to end cancer as we know it. We are proud to partner in this effort with our commitment to support cutting edge research that will advance focused ultrasound for the treatment of cancer. We envision a time when focused ultrasound will serve as a tool for medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgeons to use to enhance the safety and effectiveness of their multi-modal treatment of patients.

What is Focused Ultrasound?

This novel therapy utilizes multiple intersecting beams of ultrasound energy focused on precise targets deep in the body to create a variety of biological effects without damaging surrounding tissue. The therapeutic effects of focused ultrasound are achieved without incisions or the use of ionizing radiation.

There are currently 18 known mechanisms by which focused ultrasound affects tissue. This diversity of biological effects creates the potential for focused ultrasound to become a multipurpose technology for treating cancer — offering non-invasive tumor destruction, and enhancing radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. With further laboratory research, clinical trials and technology development focused ultrasound could become integrated into the standard of care for all four pillars of cancer treatment and decrease death, disability and suffering for many patients.

How is focused ultrasound being used today?

Focused ultrasound is in various stages of development for more than 60 medical conditions, including 16 different cancers. Although research, development and commercialization is increasing, most potential applications are in the early stages of development. Currently, the technology is approved in the US for treating painful bone metastases, prostate tissue, uterine fibroids, and essential tremor, and outside of the US for many cancers and neurological disorders. The recent FDA approvals for prostate and essential tremor have further validated the technology as a tool for non-invasive, precise ablation and have given patients new treatment options. The essential tremor approval also opens the door to treating Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, as well as brain tumors.

Early work also suggests that focused ultrasound can produce bioeffects beyond thermal ablation. In combination with microbubbles, the blood-brain barrier has been opened to deliver chemotherapy directly to the brain demonstrating the potential of focused ultrasound to treat brain metastases and gliomas. The field is also on the cusp of starting the first clinical trials to enhance cancer immunotherapy which could demonstrate a critical role for focused ultrasound in combination with promising immunotherapies to treat advanced cancer.

How can focused ultrasound be used to treat cancer?

Current cancer therapy is not effective for all patients, and can also cause side effects that compromise quality of life and limit treatment. Focused ultrasound has the potential to enhance current therapies as well as provide new therapies for many patients, reducing pain, complications and cost while improving outcomes.