A new and sophisticated twist on the technology that brings us images of a fetus in utero will soon be used by physicians at Miami Neuroscience Institute and Miami Cancer Institute to treat some patients with movement disorders and brain tumors.
High-intensity focused ultrasound (HiFU), available in only a few facilities in the United States, sends more than 1,000 beams of ultrasound through the skull to a specific location of the brain. There, sound waves converge and hit and destroy lesions or problem areas. The procedure is non-invasive, meaning there’s no incision and there’s no need for anesthesia. It also avoids radiation and doesn’t damage nearby tissues. The innovative collaboration between brain and cancer specialists offers additional options for patients who aren’t responding well to other treatments.
Patients with movement disorders, particularly those who have essential tremor, are seeing great results with HiFu, said neurosurgeon Justin Sporrer, M.D., with Miami Neuroscience Institute. “It’s a game changer,” he said. “The effect is essentially instantaneous once treatment is delivered.”
Essential tremor is a progressive and debilitating condition that causes shaking of the hands and head. People with essential tremor have difficulty with daily tasks such as writing or holding a cup of water without spilling and shaving.
With HiFU, patients are given one or more “sonications,” or energy blasts to the area, in one sitting. Between sonications, physicians talk with the patients and ask them to perform tasks that would normally be difficult. If the patient still has some tremor, another sonication may be performed. “It’s not uncommon to actually hear patients laugh as they are being treated because the effect is so dramatic,” Dr. Sporrer said.
At Miami Cancer Institute, HiFU will be used in clinical trials for patients of all ages who have recurrent brain cancers. “When brain tumors recur after primary treatment, we often have fewer proven treatment options to help patients,” said Matthew Hall, M.D., the radiation oncologist who is a principal investigator of the study. “Our treatments are further limited by the ability of cancer drugs to reach the tumor through the blood-brain barrier.”
HiFU can complement drug therapy by temporarily opening the blood-brain barrier, making it easier for medications to reach the tumors.
“Focused ultrasound can increase the chances that patients will receive a therapeutic dose of the cancer drugs while limiting the toxicities they experience,” Dr. Hall said. “This research is very exciting because it provides a great opportunity to examine new therapies in patients who often have few options and who really can benefit from more effective treatments.”