Focused Ultrasound Research Published in New England Journal of Medicine


The New England Journal of Medicine published the promising results of a pilot trial on the use of transcranial MR-guided focused ultrasound to treat patients with essential tremor (ET).

The results indicate that focused ultrasound can safely and effectively treat targeted areas deep in the brain.  The study included 15 patients with essential tremor that could not be managed by medication who underwent a completely noninvasive unilateral thalamotomy using an investigational focused ultrasound device. The study was led by W. Jeffrey Elias, MD, (shown above with the ET patients) neurosurgeon at the University of Virginia, and funded by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation.

The success of this ET pilot study has paved the way for other transcranial focused ultrasound studies to advance the field toward ultimately treating a range of brain disorders: 

  •  A larger study for FDA approval of focused ultrasound to treat ET has begun
  • Trials involving patients with tremor-dominant Parkinson’s disease and obsessive compulsive disorder are now underway
  • Patient studies for Parkinson’s dyskinesia, metastatic brain tumors and opening the blood-brain barrier are starting soon

Essential Tremor Pilot Study Overview

The Phase 1 feasibility study, conducted from February 2011 through December 2012 at the University of Virginia, treated 15 patients with ET and followed them for a year. It marked the first time that a unilateral thalamotomy, an established treatment for ET, was performed noninvasively with focused ultrasound. The treatment goal was to improve ET symptoms on one side of the body, particularly in the dominant hand of each patient. 

Key study findings:

  • Dominant hand tremor improved by 75 percent.
  • Substantial improvements in daily disabilities (85 percent) and quality of life as assessed by clinicians and patients.
  • Outcomes and complications were comparable to surgical procedures for tremor, including radio frequency thalamotomy and deep brain stimulation.