The field of focused ultrasound for Parkinson’s disease (PD) is expanding rapidly, as researchers widen the scope of possibilities, clinicians treat more patients, and sites launch clinical trials. Meet some of the leaders in this field who are working to bring hope to countless patients.
Jeff Elias, MD
Neurosurgeon Dr. Elias is the director of stereotactic and functional neurosurgery at the University of Virginia, with a large multidisciplinary program in the surgical treatment of movement disorders, epilepsy and spasticity. He pioneered the clinical research that led to the first US Food and Drug Administration approval of a focused ultrasound treatment for movement disorders. He continues to lead the global effort for additional approvals, including the treatment of tremors caused by PD. Dr. Elias is particularly interested in continuing to improve the technology as a treatment, including refining its reliability and safety.
Paul Fishman, MD, PhD
Dr. Fishman is a professor of neurology, pharmacology, and neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Fishman’s work includes new therapeutics for PD, Alzheimer’s disease, and related neurodegenerative diseases, and he has authored over 100 publications. He is currently exploring the use of focused ultrasound as a less invasive alternative to deep brain stimulation for patients with PD, and the opening of the blood-brain barrier for delivery of cellular and molecular therapeutics for neurodegenerative disease.
Elisa Konofagou, PhD
Dr. Konofagou is the Robert and Margaret Hariri Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Radiology (Physics) at Columbia University. As head of the Ultrasound Elasticity Imaging Laboratory, she is interested in exploring alternative imaging techniques for focused ultrasound procedures, neuromodulation, drug delivery, investigating neurological and cancer applications in preclinical studies, and building innovative medical devices. Her work with PD includes preclinical studies for opening the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to enable drug and gene delivery. In recent studies, Dr. Konofagou’s group has demonstrated focused ultrasound’s ability to safely and temporarily open the BBB, improve the delivery of various neurotherapeutics that could slow the progression PD, halt the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons within the brain, and promote the restoration of healthy ones. See her webinar on Focused Ultrasound for Parkinson’s Disease in Preclinical Models.
Jeffrey Kordower, MD
Dr. Kordower has recently been appointed the founding director of Arizona State University’s ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center and endowed chair as The Charlene and J. Orin Edson Distinguished Director at the Biodesign Institute. He previously spent more than 30 years at Rush University in Chicago where the research laboratory provides expertise in brain pathologies and experimental therapeutics for PD and other degenerative brain diseases. This group – along with Prof. Obeso (see below) – was the first to discover how specialized neuron grafts survived and innervated in patients with PD. Their recent stem cell, gene therapy, and protein folding work has also shown incredible promise in animal models of PD.
Nir Lipsman, MD, PhD
Dr. Lipsman is a neurosurgeon who is co-leading a team of researchers at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and University Health Network in Toronto. This group was the first in the world to use focused ultrasound to deliver a therapeutic directly to the striatum in patients with PD. The team is using low-intensity ultrasound waves to cause a temporary opening in the BBB, which allows access to the striatum and the direct delivery of an enzyme replacement therapy (glucocerebrosidase). Dr. Lipsman’s focused ultrasound work is centered on applying the latest technological advances to difficult-to-treat brain disorders. An early adopter of focused ultrasound, Dr. Lipsman is looking to bring noninvasive solutions to patients as quickly and as safely as possible. See his webinar on Breaking Barriers with Sound: The Future of Parkinson’s Disease Therapy.
José Obeso, MD, PhD
José Obeso is the director of the Neuroscience Centre (HM CINAC) at the HM Puerta del Sur University Hospital in Madrid, Spain, where he heads a highly active team devoted to understanding and developing new treatments for PD. Prof. Obeso led the first clinical trial in the world to use focused ultrasound to temporarily and reversibly open the BBB in the cortex and putamen regions of Parkinson’s patients. He holds the Neurology chair for the Royal National Academy of Medicine of Spain. He has published more than 350 peer-reviewed papers related to PD and other movement disorders.
Rich Price, PhD
Dr. Price, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Research Director of the University of Virginia (UVA) Focused Ultrasound Center, develops ultrasound-activated drug and gene delivery systems for treating cancer and PD and investigates the mechanisms through which collateral arteries grow and adapt in response to changes in blood flow. His research uses MR-guided focused ultrasound for targeting the delivery of drugs and genes across the BBB for the prevention of Parkinson’s neurodegeneration. A study funded in 2020 is using focused ultrasound and microbubbles to deliver a promising gene therapy that is designed to reverse the loss of neuroplasticity in the brain that is caused by PD. As the research director of the UVA Focused Ultrasound Center, Dr. Price leads an institution-wide effort to identify, investigate, and translate new focused ultrasound applications.