On May 10, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation held its biennial awareness event in Charlottesville, Va. As in past years, attendees included the Foundation’s Board of Directors, Council, and staff, as well as focused ultrasound clinicians, researchers, patients, donors, and community members interested in the impact of this innovative technology.
After a reception to welcome 150 attendees and participants – many of whom flew in from around the country – Chairman Neal F. Kassell, MD, greeted the audience and introduced four groundbreaking physicians who spoke about their respective work with focused ultrasound.
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First, Nir Lipsman, MD, PhD, FRCSC, from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto presented early results from a new study, where they successfully opened the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Lipsman discussed how this achievement offers the possibility of targeted delivery of Alzheimer’s drugs. Beyond that, Dr. Lipsman provided a glimpse of how focused ultrasound as a means of opening the BBB presents an opportunity to treat a host of additional neurological conditions, such as metastatic brain tumors, ALS, and psychiatric disorders like OCD and depression.
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Next, Pejman Ghanouni, MD, PhD, from Stanford University, discussed his focused ultrasound pediatric work with desmoid tumors and the responsibility to be as minimally invasive as possible with this young patient population. Dr. Ghanouni emphasized the groundbreaking nature of using FUS because, in the past, “recovery from surgery could be as morbid as the tumor,” but FUS has been shown to dramatically reduce morbidity.
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The Director of Interventional Radiology at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy, Franco Orsi, MD, PhD, EBIR, spoke next. Dr. Orsi provided details about the clinical outcomes and advantages of treating pancreatic cancer with focused ultrasound, including recent results. Dr. Orsi also presented fascinating information about the abscopal effect – providing details about how the immune response elicited from treating the primary tumor may also reduce the size of distant tumors.
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Finally, Craig Slingluff, MD, from the University of Virginia Cancer Center, who has spent the past 20 years with his team at the UVA Human Immune Therapy Center working to understand the immune response to melanoma and other cancers, spoke about the potential of focused ultrasound as a means of enhancing cancer immunotherapy. Dr. Slingluff explained how focused ultrasound can alter the tumor microenvironment and potentially improve treatment of more patients, particularly when combined with promising immunotherapies.
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The evening concluded with a Q&A session, moderated by Dr. Kassell, during which the audience was invited to ask questions and share their thoughts with the assembled physicians.
The final comment of the night came from audience member Peter Muller, Director of the essential tremor advocacy organization Hopenet and a patient. Mr. Muller said, “Somebody made the comment ‘expectations are greater than reality.’ I’m reality. I had focused ultrasound last August [for essential tremor], and the quality of my life has dramatically changed. I just wanted to say: I’m the real thing – I’ve had it, and it worked.”