January 25, 2012

Treating Essential Tremor with Ultrasound: Are Cancer and Parkinson's Next?

A segment on the ABC Evening News on January 24 caught my attention. Medical correspondent Dr. Richard Besser reported on the success of treating Essential Tremor (ET) with MRI guided focused ultrasound.

The clip showed the dramatic results for a woman with ET. Before the treatment, shaking prevented her from easily touching the tip of her index finger to Besser’s. After the non-invasive, ten-minute procedure – no problem.

Her results were similar to those of the man in this brief video:

The process uses MRI imaging to accurately pinpoint the affected area responsible for the ET in the thalamus region of the brain. Then, focused ultrasound targets that tissue, which can be as small as one millimeter in diameter.

Dr. Jeffrey Elias, Director of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery at University of Virginia – the same man featured in the ABCNews story -- explains the procedure:

The FDA has already approved the MRI-ultrasound technology for treating uterine fibroids. In Europe, the process had been approved for treating bone metasteses.
According to the Focused Ultrasound Surgery Foundation (FUSF) website, the procedure could:
  • be the ultimate form of noninvasive surgery
  • destroy tumors without making any incisions and without harm to other organs
  • replace the need for most radiation treatments
  • transform pharmacological therapy by delivering drugs precisely where needed without harm to the rest of the body
  • dissolve blood clots and restore flow through blocked vessels
The Focused Ultrasound Surgery Foundation site (FUSF) mentions the possible use of the technology to also treat brain tumors, epilepsy, neuropathic pain, Parkinson’s disease, and prostate cancer.



Barbara said...

I am interested in the use of this procedure to treat epilepsy/seizure disorder. Also, wonder if it's covered by insurance.

Jschappi said...

Hi Barbara – Looks like there are still hurdles to
overcome before focused ultrasound can treat epilepsy. Please check this link
for more

info: http://www.fusfoundation.org/Epilepsy/.  Insurance companies apparently don’t
automatically cover the procedure, but that issue may be evolving. Please check

Best wishes, John

David said...

I would like to know if this proceedure for Essential Tremors could work with someone who has a pacemaker

John said...

Hi David – The Focused Ultrasound Surgery Foundation site (fusfoundation.org) doesn’t provide an answer to your excellent question. Google lists lots of suggestions for “focused ultrasound pacemaker,” but I didn’t see anything definitive. Until I hang out my shingle, my best advice is: check with your doctor. I’d appreciate learning what s/he advises. Best wishes, John

Forrestandcarol said...

Is anyone aware of the new Ultrasound treatment for Essential Tremor being available in the Seattle area?

Ray Benson said...

Is anyone aware of the new Ultrasound treatment for essential tremor available in Canada?

John said...

Hi Ray -- http://www.essentialtremor.org/focused-ultrasound-surgery indicates that clinical trials are now underway in Canada. You may find additional info on that site, or at the fusfoundation.org site I mention below. Keep me posted? Best wishes, John

John said...

Hi Forrest and Carol -- Although the clinical trial with 15 patients at the University of Virginia was completed in 2011, focused ultrasound is not yet an approved treatment for ET. I didn't see any info about trials in your beautiful city (which I visited last August, and loved). You might check directly with fusfoundation.org. I'd appreciate learning what you may find. Thanks, John

Fabiola Alonso said...

This means that Deep Brain Stimulation wouldn't be necessary anymore or could it be replaced? There is a lot of research in DBS which will be just thrown away or...

John said...

Good question, Fabiola, though I think it's too soon to know what impact ultrasound may have on DBS as a treatment for conditions like PD. If ultrasound builds a record of success similar to DBS's, it may become a preferred treatment, since it's non-invasive and doesn't require implantation. I guess we'll have to stay tuned! Regards, John