Ultrasonic Brain Therapy Expert, Jean-Francois Aubry, PhD, to be Visiting Associate Professor at UVA


Through a visiting associate professorship funded by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, one of the world’s leading ultrasonic therapy experts will spend the next eleven months collaborating with focused ultrasound researchers at the University of Virginia and with the Foundation’s Brain Program team. Jean-Francois (Jeff) Aubry, PhD, will be taking a leave of absence from Institut Langevin in Paris, France to engage in research that could improve focused ultrasound treatments for the brain. He will be an Associate Professor in UVA’s Department of Radiation Oncology from August 2012 through July 2013.

“Jeff has been a collaborator on projects that the Foundation funds at the University of Utah and Langevin. By bringing him here, we are moving some the center of gravity of that collaboration to UVA,” explains John Snell, PhD, technical director of the Foundation’s Brain Program. “Hopefully, the opportunity to interact and work with Jeff will inspire more UVA researchers to get engaged with focused ultrasound.”

In a recent interview, Aubry provided an overview of his focused ultrasound research to date and described the projects planned for his time at UVA.

Jean Francois Aubry completed his PhD in March 2002 on transcranial ultrasonic focusing. He has been senior scientist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) since October 2002 and works at the Institut Langevin (Paris, France). His specific interests are ultrasonic brain imaging and ultrasonic-guided and MR-guided therapy (namely transcranial brain therapy and transcostal liver therapy). Aubry has expertise on adaptive focusing in complex media (time reversal and inverse filter) and has clinical experience in transcranial ultrasonic brain ablation and in motion correction for liver ablation.

Aubry holds three patents on adaptive focusing. He has given 20 invited talks at international conferences, published 35 articles in international journals and more than 50 proceedings. He organized four summer schools on therapeutic ultrasound and has been a consultant for Supersonic Imagine (Aix en Provence, France) on MR-guided brain therapy.

Aubry is a member of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s Research Advisory Committee and of its 2012 Symposium Scientific Program Committee. In 2011, he received the Fred Lizzi Early Career Award from the International Society of Therapeutic Ultrasound and a bronze medal from the CNRS.

Q. What have been your key areas of contribution and interest so far in the field of focused ultrasound?

Aubry: I have been mainly working on adaptive ultrasonic focusing through complex structures like bones. Bones are indeed known to block ultrasonic beams. But even though ultrasonic beams hardly go through bony structures, a fraction of the beam crosses this barrier.  I worked on finding the optimum way to transmit ultrasound through the costal wall and through the skull, in order to achieve liver and brain therapy with focused ultrasound. Concerning the brain, these techniques have been implemented in a clinical system by Supersonic Imagine.


Q. What will be the focus of your work/research at UVA?

Aubry: I will first be involved in a cavitation detection study, for safer brain treatments. I will also help implementing magnetic resonance (MR) imaging of the acoustic radiation force (MR-ARFI). It consists in using motion sensitive MR sequences in order to measure micrometric tissue displacements induced by the acoustic radiation force. It can be useful to guide the treatment and also to optimize transcranial focusing (an ultrasonic beam focusing perfectly through the skull would induce a higher displacement than an uncorrected beam distorted by the skull).

Developing a head phantom is another project. More and more research teams are working on transcranial focused ultrasound with various ultrasonic and MR systems. Results are in some cases very difficult to compare and translate: some teams have access to cadavers, some to dried skull bones, some to none of the above. A head phantom available worldwide would be of great benefit and would facilitate collaborations between UVA and innovative groups worldwide. Matt Eames of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation already did a great job in making a custom molded phantom, and I look forward to working with him on this project.

Additionally, there is interesting ongoing research at UVA on rodent models (Jame Mata and Richard Price) and I would be pleased to collaborate and share my previous experience with a dedicated rodent MR-compatible stereotactic brain setup that I developed in Paris with Benoit Larrat and other colleagues and that is now sold by a company named Image Guided Therapy. UVA recently bought one of these systems (in 2012); this was independent of my coming to UVA, but it would certainly be a fruitful collaboration.


Q. How will this build upon/expand the work you have been doing at Institut Langevin?

Aubry: I have been developing at Institut Langevin for 13 years new techniques in order to focus ultrasound through the skull for brain therapy. We developed a clinical system in collaboration with SuperSonic Imagine. At the same time, InSightec was developing another brain system (Exablate 4000, available at UVA), mostly in collaboration with Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston. Both groups faced the same challenges and proposed their own solutions. My stay at UVA is a great opportunity to share our experiences.


Q. How do you think your time at UVA will impact/benefit the advancement of focused ultrasound technology?

Aubry: UVA teams and Institut Langevin are very complementary. There is no doubt both groups will greatly benefit from collaboration. Taking the best of two transcranial technologies developed separately should improve future clinical treatments.


Q. What makes you excited about spending a year at UVA?

First of all, UVA has become one of the leading groups in focused ultrasound brain treatment. Dr. Jeff Elias and his colleagues achieved last year a major breakthrough by successfully treating essential tremors with MR-guided focused ultrasound. UVA offers a unique environment with a wide range of ultrasonic devices: a clinical brain system with two operating frequencies (660KHz and 220KHz), a body system. It also has research systems dedicated to more basic science on rodent models and world-leading research projects that are ongoing. From a scientific point of view, moving to UVA is thus very exciting. The UVA and Focused ultrasound Foundation people I have met so far have been very supportive and helpful. I look forward to working with them. Moving from Paris, France to Charlottesville, Virginia with my wife and two kids is also quite exciting for the whole family.


Q. Is there more information you’d like to add?

Aubry: I would like to thank Neal Kassel and James Larner for inviting me to UVA and making this possible. I also thank Mickael Tanter and Mathias Fink (of LOA) for their support in this exciting adventure in the US (and for 13 exciting years of research and friendship… and more to come).


Written by Ellen C., McKenna