In November 2017, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation launched a new veterinary program to develop focused ultrasound therapies for the treatment of companion animals. We are now supporting trials to investigate treating cancer and promote wound healing in pets – and more studies are in the pipeline.
Theraclion's Echopulse device
“New therapies are often slow to make their way into veterinary medicine, leaving veterinarians frustrated with the lack of options for their patients,” adds Foundation Veterinary Program Director Kelsie Timbie, PhD. “We feel focused ultrasound could meet a critical need in veterinary medicine by both expanding and improving treatment for a range of conditions.”
The goal of this research program is to offer a variety of benefits over traditional therapies in animals. Focused ultrasound is a noninvasive therapy that can reduce the risk of infection and eliminate the need for stitches, making recovery safer and less painful for animals. One to three focused ultrasound treatments can achieve the same results as traditional therapy, without the need for surgery or radiation, which requires as many as 30 treatments. Additionally, the major barriers to adoption that exist in human medicine – regulatory and insurance reimbursement hurdles – are not as restrictive in veterinary medicine.
Treating Canine Cancer
A study to treat sarcomas and mast cell tumors in dogs is now underway at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM) at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.
In the Foundation-funded trial, Clinical Assistant Professor of Radiology, Jeffrey Ruth, DVM, and his team are investigating focused ultrasound therapy to noninvasively destroy tumors and stimulate the dogs’ own immune systems to fight the cancer. Researchers are using a device developed by French company Theraclion that was originally developed to treat breast and thyroid conditions in humans. However, its design allows it to easily be adapted for veterinary indications.
“These canine tumors tend to occur on the limbs and may recur if they are not entirely removed. As a result, often amputation is required,” says Dr. Ruth. “It is our hope that focused ultrasound will add to current treatment options by providing a way to non-invasively ablate the mass and also trigger an anti-tumor immune response.”
In tandem with the work at Virginia Tech, researchers at the Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences are also exploring the use of focused ultrasound for soft tissue tumors in dogs and cats in a separate trial.
Ashish Ranjan, BVSc, PhD, leads the Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Targeted Therapy there, and to date, they have treated five canine and feline patients.
“Veterinary cancer types, site, growth and genetic features are comparable to those in human cancer,” explains Dr. Ranjan. “Realizing these benefits, we recently initiated the clinical trials in our hospital to investigate the immunotherapeutic potentials of focused ultrasound against canine cancers. Early data suggest that this approach is clinically feasible, and Oreo is the perfect example of success that comes out of it.”
Dr. Ranjan and his team have begun another study investigating focused ultrasound’s ability to speed wound healing at the Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.
Nonhealing wounds are caused by biofilm-forming bacteria and are difficult to treat, often requiring long-duration antimicrobial treatment, extensive surgical intervention, and in many cases, limb amputations. In the Foundation-funded trial, Dr. Ranjan and his team will use focused ultrasound to treat hygromas – a condition where repeated pressure on a bony joint produces significant swelling. These masses can become infected and painful and are very challenging to treat.
“Hygromas typically have poor blood flow and are slow to heal, so any incision during treatment can make the situation worse,” says Dr. Ranjan. “Focused ultrasound offers multiple benefits over traditional therapy – it can noninvasively reduce the bacterial infections, while simultaneously improving the local delivery, and therapeutic effects of antibiotics. We expect this combined approach to significantly improve healing time, and prevent infection recurrence.”
If successful, this application of focused ultrasound will not only be game-changing for veterinary medicine. The potential applications to human medicine are widespread as the therapy could be investigated for the treatment of bedsores, pressure ulcers and diabetic ulcers.
Pet owners who are interesting in learning more about any of these studies should contact:
Interested in getting involved?
The Focused Ultrasound Foundation is actively seeking to promote interest in focused ultrasound within the veterinary community and plans to host discussion forums on the topic. Interested researchers and veterinarians should contact the Foundation’s director of the veterinary program, Kelsie Timbie, PhD, at or visit the Veterinary Program page on our website.