Harvard’s Seung-Schik Yoo Discusses Research in FUS-mediated Neuromodulation


Applications may include epilepsy, stroke, movement disorders, and depression

Seung-Schik Yoo, Ph.D., MBA, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is in search of a non-invasive method to assess region-specific brain functions and to modify and control aberrant brain activities. His recent neuromodulation research indicates that MR-guided focused ultrasound may provide the capabilities he seeks.

During an April 21 Foundation-sponsored lecture at the University of Virginia, Yoo said the technology could be used to perform functional brain mapping and in the treatment of epilepsy, stroke, movement disorders and perhaps even psychiatric disorders such as depression and substance abuse. 

Yoo is recognized as a leading researcher in focused ultrasound-mediated neuromodulation, a noninvasive process that involves stimulating and/or suppressing brain functions.

In preclinical experiments, he used MR-guided focused ultrasound to deliver pulsed, low intensity acoustic energy to regions within the cerebral cortex and proved it can alter brain activity in a selective, reversible way. Yoo’s work has also helped determine effective treatment parameters for acoustic intensity, pulse duration, pulse repetition frequency and length of the pulse sequence (or train).

“When we started, we didn’t know what kind of sonication to give,” Yoo explains. “We ed about 50 different types of sonication parameters to determine which were effective.”

In his research, Yoo applied low-energy focused ultrasound to visual and somatomotor areas while a real-time functional MRI and electrophysiological recordings were used to characterize spatiotemporal levels of brain activation and MRI thermometry to monitor temperature.

Yoo’s experiments demonstrated the suppression of epilepetic seizure activity using FUS neuromodulation in an inhibitory mode. They also demonstrated the stimulation of motor activity using excitatory FUS neuromodulation.

After the lecture, Eben Alexander, M.D., clinical director of the FUS Foundation’s Brain Program, agreed that neuromodulation holds great potential. “Neuromodulation will be an important feature of the functional neurosurgical management of chronic pain, movement disorders and behavioral disorders, including obsessive compulsive disorder and chronic depression.”

A 2008 recipient of a FUS Foundation research award (for project entitled, FUS-mediated Reversible Modulation of Region-specific Brain Function), Yoo has been a reliable and respected voice on the Foundation’s Neuromodulation Working Group. Currently, he is a key researcher in a  preclinical, multi-center study of neuromodulation that is being considered for Foundation funding.

Yoo is now conducting further research on optimizing sonication parameters for the anti-epileptic aspect of FUS-mediated neuromodulation. He is also studying potential modulation in neurotransmitters that are affected by his method to find chemical “footprints” of the sonication.

In the near future, he plans to perform safety studies of FUS neuromodulation pursuant to human clinical trials. Early clinical applications of neuromodulation will likely include brain mapping and target confirmation for functional neurosurgical procedures.

Quick Take: Background information for Seung-Schik Yoo 

  • Currently, Associate Professor of Radiology Tissue Imaging/Engineering Laboratory, Director of Functional MRI Services at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston
  • Also serves as adjunct professor at Department of BioSystems at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST)
  • Graduated from Johns Hopkins with a major in Biomedical Engineering (1994)
  • Received his  Ph.D. from Harvard-MIT Health Science and Technology program (2000), majoring in radiological sciences with experience in operating MIT nuclear reactor
  • Earned an MBA in Marketing from the University of Massachusetts
  • Served as technical consultant in Department of Neurology at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
  • Became interested in neuroscience and neuromodulation during his postdoctoral training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Trained in image-guided surgical planning and real-time functional MRI and other radiological imaging techniques
  • Pioneer in using real-time functional MRI for neuromodulation and brain-computer-interface
  • Specializes in the field of ‘3D organ printing’ for regenerative medicine using stem cells

Key research interests: FUS mediated non-invasive neuromodulation and developing engineering solutions for regenerative medicine.

Written by Ellen C., McKenna