The Focused Ultrasound Foundation held its biennial awareness event in Charlottesville, Virginia, on May 22. The audience included clinicians, patients, donors, community members, and the Foundation’s Board of Directors and Council.
During the one-hour event, Foundation staff members, clinicians, and patients updated attendees on the latest breakthroughs in focused ultrasound and examined the potential of focused ultrasound to confront several of the most vexing challenges in medicine.
The Foundation’s awareness event is a unique opportunity for all sectors of the focused ultrasound community to converge and share with one another, which is especially exciting during a time when the technology is hitting its inflection point – becoming more widely commercialized and increasingly used as a mainstream therapeutic option.
Foundation Chairman Neal F. Kassell, MD, (pictured, right) welcomed the audience and led with a heartfelt remembrance of the Foundation’s late friend, David King of King Family Vineyards, who recently lost his battle with lung cancer. As a beloved member of the community and an enthusiastic supporter of the Foundation, King’s struggle with metastasizing lung cancer accentuated the tremendous societal need for disruptive, innovative technologies like focused ultrasound to address serious, intractable medical disorders.
Foundation staff and invited guests presented brief updates on the following topic areas:
The Foundation’s Brain Program Director, Francesco Prada, MD, discussed focused ultrasound for Parkinson’s disease, which affects more than 10 million people worldwide. Jeffrey Elias, MD, Director of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery at the University of Virginia spoke about the challenges of treating targets in the brain. Dr. Elias led a study that was instrumental in getting FDA approval for focused ultrasound treatment of Parkinson’s tremor. Patient Kimberly Spletter – whom many may remember from her TEDx talk and her videos on our website – talked about how focused ultrasound treatment at the University of Maryland for Parkinson’s dyskinesia vastly improved her quality of life.
Susie LeBlang, MD, Director of Clinical Relationships at the Foundation, highlighted recent advances in the application of focused ultrasound for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects one in 10 people age 65 and older. She explained how opening the blood-brain barrier using MR-guided focused ultrasound could potentially allow for concentrated, targeted drug delivery, and may also lead to the clearing of amyloid plaques and tau proteins.
Lauren Powlovich, MD, Science Associate and Medical Writer for the Foundation, and Dheeraj Gandhi, MBBS, Professor of Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Maryland, presented on chronic pain in its many forms. Chronic pain is a major public health problem, affecting one-fifth of adults in the US and is a primary driver of the burgeoning opioid epidemic. Several clinical trials are under way to explore focused ultrasound as a noninvasive, nonpharmacological treatment option for those who suffer from chronic pain. Dr. Gandhi is currently leading a trial to treat neuropathic pain with focused ultrasound at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Cancer is a notorious disease that has impacted nearly everyone in one way or another. Jessica Foley, PhD, the Foundation’s Chief Scientific Officer, discussed how focused ultrasound can be used in combination with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy to treat a variety of cancers. David Brenin, MD, Chief of Breast Surgery and Co-Director of the University of Virginia Cancer Program’s Breast Center, reviewed his work on focused ultrasound ablation for tumors of the breast and future plans to design and open an early stage breast cancer study at the University of Virginia.
Finally, Kelsie Timbie, PhD, the Foundation’s Veterinary Program Director, provided an overview of the promising clinical applications of focused ultrasound in veterinary medicine. Special guest Mayo, a charming golden doodle, along with her human parents Cathy and John Tinaglia, delivered a compelling account of how focused ultrasound preserved the quality and length of life for Mayo after she was treated at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine for a soft tissue tumor in her leg. The Foundation’s veterinary program is engaged in partnerships with veterinary schools around the country, which enables the collection of clinical data that can advance knowledge of how to treat humans, while simultaneously improving the quality of life for pets.