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Sunnybrook Research Institute leads in clinical trials of focused ultrasound

November 11, 2019

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World-first studies of the technology are in brain cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, among others

Focused ultrasound, a technology pioneered by Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) senior scientist Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, could transform how doctors treat a host of diseases, including psychiatric disorders and brain cancer. It uses sound waves to target tissue deep in the body noninvasively.

Clinical Trials Ontario has published a feature on SRI’s leadership in clinical trials of focused ultrasound. Sunnybrook was the site of the first published study, out in 2013, on using focused ultrasound to treat severe essential tremor, a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable shaking. Led by Drs. Nir Lipsman and Michael Schwartz, the study showed that guided by MRI, focused ultrasound can destroy the part of the brain responsible for the tremor.

An international trial on the technology followed. Those results, published in 2016, showed that focused ultrasound safely and effectively reduces tremor and disability, and improves quality of life for people with medication-resistant essential tremor. On the basis of these results, in 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada granted regulatory approval for focused ultrasound as a treatment option for the condition.

Most recently, in 2019, the Ministry and Health and Long-Term Care announced the procedure would be funded, providing $1.4 million to treat another 72 patients.

Blood-Brain Barrier Crossing
Clinical Trials Ontario also highlights SRI’s leadership role in using focused ultrasound to breach the blood-brain barrier. In 2015, researchers at Sunnybrook became the first in the world to use focused ultrasound to deliver chemotherapy directly into the brain of a woman with brain cancer by bypassing the blood-brain barrier. This protective mechanism prevents toxins—and most drugs—from reaching the brain.

In another world first, in 2017, Sunnybrook researchers tested the technology in people with Alzheimer’s disease, showing that it could open the blood-brain barrier safely, repeatedly and reversibly.

SRI scientists led another groundbreaking study that was published in 2019. Drs. Lipsman, Agessandro Abrahao and Lorne Zinman were the first to show that focused ultrasound can open the blood-brain barrier safely and temporarily in people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

There are more than 10 clinical trials ongoing at Sunnybrook studying the use of focused ultrasound to treat psychiatric disorders, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Sunnybrook lends its expertise in the area to clinical sites all over the globe, including in Spain, South Korea, the U.S. and elsewhere in Canada.

» Read the full story at Clinical Trials Ontario