Focused Ultrasound Symposium Highlights Immense Advances in the Field
Today marks the close of the 6th International Symposium on Focused Ultrasound, a meeting that further exemplified the field’s immense progress and the technology's potential to transform medical therapy. More than 450 attendees heard 250 presentations on the latest research in cancer and cancer immunotherapy, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, pain, and more.
In the past two years, there have been key clinical milestones in many neurological indications, including brain tumors, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, OCD, and depression. There have also been milestones achieved in veterinary medicine.
A summary document will be made available in the coming months, and videos of the plenary sessions and special presentations will be available on our website and distributed soon via email.
The Focused Ultrasound Foundation was included in Charity Navigator’s recent list of America’s 10 Best Medical Research Organizations. The list highlights charities that are committed to funding cutting-edge research, finding breakthroughs for a spectrum of conditions and diseases, and using donors’ funds wisely in their journey to find a cure. Charity Navigator is the nation’s largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor advocate, and the Foundation has earned four stars, the highest rating awarded by the site.
The Foundation has released its Summer Progress Report, which includes notable achievements over the past four months. Highlights in the document include the presentation of Alzheimer’s disease clinical trial results, the publication of the annual State of the Field report, and the first co-funded cancer immunotherapy grant with the Cancer Research Institute.
Foundation Chief Scientific Officer Jessica Foley, PhD, was an invited speaker at the Third Annual Women Building Bio conference, organized by long-term Foundation partner the Virginia Biotechnology Association. Dr. Foley shared the extraordinary potential of focused ultrasound and the Foundation's work to advance the field. Women Building Bio is a one-day regional conference converging extraordinary men and women, industry and academia, researchers and innovators, professionals and decision-makers to cultivate relationships and make an impact.
Avanti Godbole joined the development team full-time after working at the Foundation throughout her capstone project for the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. Paige Rice will serve as Chief of Staff, working closely with the Chairman and the development team in support of the Foundation’s mission. Lastly, Emily Whipple, PhD, has signed on as Director of Strategic Initiatives to help develop and implement projects and programs that promote the adoption of focused ultrasound.
Across the medical device industry there is a strong startup scene, and the focused ultrasound field is no exception. These startup companies historically have excelled at innovation and engineering, but they have not been expected to go through the entire product development process. That paradigm is now changing. The intricacies of getting a device through regulatory approvals and successfully commercializing it can be difficult. Learn what the Foundation is doing to guide startups as they navigate new ground.
Harry Lester's experience in medicine and medical research grew through his involvement with Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, where he served on the Board of Visitors and then as interim president. After his wife's battle with cancer and Alzheimer's and his own diagnosis of stage-four cancer, Lester's interest in medical research took a personal turn. He was fortunate to have access to a groundbreaking immunotherapy drug that saved his life, and as a supporter of the Foundation, he believes that focused ultrasound and the work we're doing has the potential to save many others.
This week, Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), delivered a keynote address on technological innovation and the barriers faced in medicine at the Foundation's biennial Symposium. CTA works to break down these barriers partly through their Let's Go Humans initiative, the tech industry's "rallying cry for supporting and championing the kinds of emerging technology that betters our world." During his talk, Shapiro debuted the latest Let's Go Humans video, featuring Julia, an essential tremor patient whose life was changed by focused ultrasound.
Insightec recently announced that Medicare benefit coverage for their Exablate Neuro device to treat essential tremor was expanded to an additional nine states, bringing the total number of states covered to 25. Most recently, patients in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio gained coverage. See coverage from Mass Device.
Researchers at the West Virginia University (WVU) Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute have treated the first patient in a new, groundbreaking clinical trial utilizing focused ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease. The team, led by neurosurgeon Ali Rezai, MD, will evaluate whether focused ultrasound reduces the debilitating plaques and cognitive decline that are the hallmarks of the disease.
Pet owners in Oklahoma now have focused ultrasound as a treatment option for locally accessible cancerous tumors, infected soft tissue, or bone infections. In 2013, Dr. Ashish Ranjan established a focused ultrasound program at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. The program now offers tumor treatment as a regular service, and a clinical trial funded by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation is open to pets with non-healing wounds. “We are currently the only school to provide focused ultrasound as a service,” said Dr. Ranjan. “Our research has also led to a recent submission to the USDA to include immunotherapy in our focused ultrasound regimen. If approved, we intend to use it to treat aggressive metastatic cancers.”
Natasha Sheybani, a fourth-year PhD candidate and member of the Price Laboratory in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia, was recently awarded a Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award by the National Cancer Institute. The award is intended to aid students who aspire to start an independent cancer research lab.
With the goal of more efficiently delivering molecules to brain tumors, Tyrone Porter, PhD, and Nathan McDannold, PhD, collaborated on a project to package and hide small interfering RNA (siRNA) within nanoparticles. They then used focused ultrasound to deliver an adequate amount of them to turn off genes that allow brain tumors to grow.
“Translating Discovery to Cure” was the theme of the 60th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO). Two posters included focused ultrasound research. The Columbia group presented data from their preclinical study using focused ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier for drug delivery after stereotactic radiosurgery. A collaborative Canadian group presented interim results from a large clinical trial of recurrent cancer after radiation therapy.
Cancer immunotherapy made headlines recently when two researchers, James P. Allison and Tashuku Honjo, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in employing the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Their research has led to the development of a new class of immunotherapeutics called checkpoint inhibitors. The Foundation’s Cancer Immunotherapy Program is dedicated to advancing the use of focused ultrasound to enhance immune-based treatments of cancers, particularly through identifying new combination treatments with drugs, including checkpoint inhibitors. Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD, leads the Cancer Research Institute, a key Foundation partner, and gave the Foundation’s most-watched webinar on cancer immunotherapy and how focused ultrasound may affect the field.
This month’s research highlights come from the 6th International Symposium on Focused Ultrasound, held this week in Reston, Virginia. Researchers from around the world presented the latest data on focused ultrasound applications for the brain, cancer immunotherapy, liver, lung, veterinary medicine, and more.
EDAP TMS is a French company specialized in focused ultrasound treatment of the prostate. In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration approved their Ablatherm® Robotic HIFU device, and their Focal One® device earned approval earlier this year. We recently interviewed three members of the company’s leadership: Emmanuel Blanc, Director of Research & Development; Vincent Mortureux, HIFU Product Manager; and Maude Pavageau, Communications Manager.
Device manufacturer Insightec recently announced that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved their Exablate Neuro device to be used with MRI’s designed and manufactured by Siemens Healthineers to treat essential tremor patients. “Expansion of MRI compatibility for Exablate Neuro substantially increases the potential reach of incisionless brain surgery for essential tremor patients,” notes Insightec CEO Maurice R. Ferré, MD. See coverage in Mass Device.
Maurice R. Ferré, MD, CEO and Chairman of Insightec, was presented with BioFlorida's 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award for his significant contributions to the medtech industry by BioFlorida at their annual conference. BioFlorida supports the advancement of the life sciences and represents 6,200 establishments and research organizations in the state.
"I am honored to receive this lifetime achievement at such an early point in my professional career, as I still have so much more to accomplish through the great work at Insightec,” said Ferré. “There are many opportunities on the horizon for the Insightec team to advance incisionless surgery with focused ultrasound.”