First Depression Clinical Trial with Focused Ultrasound Begins

The first patient with depression has been treated with focused ultrasound. This procedure marks the beginning of a pilot clinical trial to determine the feasibility and safety of MR-guided focused ultrasound to non-invasively destroy a small volume of tissue deep in the brain – the anterior limb of the internal capsule – a well-established target for treating severe depression. In this initial patient, the target was successfully ablated without complications.


The arrows indicate the ablated, or
destroyed, tissue in the brain post-treatment 

This study is being led by neurosurgeon Jin Woo Chang, MD, at Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea.
“There is a need for non-invasive treatment options for patients with depression that cannot be managed through medication,” says Dr. Chang, who is president of the Korean Neurosurgical Society.  “We were able to conduct the focused ultrasound procedure without complications or serious adverse effects. We will continue to monitor the patient to assess how her depression symptoms change over time.” 

In this trial, 10 patients with severe depression that is resistant to medication or electroconvulsive therapy will be treated with focused ultrasound using Insightec’s Exablate Neuro System. Outcomes will be measured with clinical examinations and MR imaging, as well psychological assessments during a six-month follow-up period. 

“Modern clinical series from experienced centers have shown that ablative surgery can be very helpful in many patients with treatment refractory depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The ability to place small, well-controlled lesions using focused ultrasound without exposing the patient to the risks of open surgery and direct brain penetration is certainly an attractive new surgical option," says Dr. Rees Cosgrove, head of epilepsy and functional neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

If the results of this pilot study demonstrate that focused ultrasound is feasible and safe, it will lead to a pivotal trial in a larger number of patients to determine long-term safety and efficacy of focused ultrasound to alleviate severe depression.

“We are encouraged to see the research building on the utility of focused ultrasound as a non-invasive method to treat a range of both neurological and psychiatric disorders. This technology may offer new hope to patients suffering from depression, OCD, Parkinson’s, essential tremor, brain tumors and more,” - Foundation Chairman Neal Kassell, MD.” 

This trial is supported by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, and additional information may be found on
About Depression 
Major depression is a psychiatric disorder in which a person consistently experiences feelings of sadness, guilt and worthlessness for at least two weeks. Depression can interfere with daily life, often leading to a loss of interest in activities, trouble sleeping and impaired concentration. According to the World Health Organization, depression represents one of the largest and most important sources of human morbidity and is a major source of lost productivity and health care costs.

Focused Ultrasound's Potential for Depression
Focused ultrasound is a potentially powerful non-invasive approach for treating patients with severe depression that is refractory to medical therapy.  This non-radiation treatment may be a more convenient, comfortable and safe option for patients, that eliminates the risks of open neurosurgery. If shown to be safe and effective, focused ultrasound for depression may ultimately be a less expensive and widely accessible treatment option for a large number of patients. 

Current Treatments for Depression 
Although the majority of depressed patients improve with drugs and psychotherapy, up to one-third are refractory to the best available current treatments.  These patients are often eligible for neuromodulation strategies, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and neurosurgical procedures, that directly target specific brain regions to disrupt the abnormal circuitry that generates the depression symptoms. Currently available approaches include lesional procedures such as radiofrequency (RF) or radiosurgical ablation, and non-lesional procedures, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS). 

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