Focused Ultrasound is Revolutionizing the Treatment of Brain Disorders
When I was first diagnosed I actually didn’t believe it. I said, well I thought I was too young to have it because I always thought Alzheimer’s was like when you get up in your seventies or eighties. I had had doctors who said to me there’s nothing we can do about it. That I had no hope of ever-improving. Before the procedure, my life was very limited. I lived in a dark box. Focused ultrasound is a surgical device. It’s a medical device that harnesses the power of multiple ultrasound transducers to focus ultrasound waves or sound waveson to discrete points within the brain The game-changing quality of focused ultrasound is the capacity to do surgery inside the brain without having to create a cut or an opening in the skull.
There’s no other center in the world that is conducting trials in as much breadth and depth as Sunnybrook. So, we are conducting trials along multiplekinds of conditions and platforms. So whether it’s the neurodegenerative conditions and Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS, all the way to brain tumors and psychiatric disorders. In neuroscience and especially neuro-oncology,the Holy Grail to the treatment is the ability to deliver our therapies directly to the problem in the brain.
Currently, that’s a problem because the blood-brain barrier stops it. Our focused ultrasound system allows us to open up any place in the brain and deliver our medications directly to where we want, safely. So, the very fine blood vessels of our brain are enveloped by a cellular layer, known as the blood-brain barrier, and it imposes a serious physical obstacle to whatever is in our bloodstream from entering the brain. So, focus ultrasound, what that allows us to do is temporarily open that barrier. To allow whatever is circulating bloodstream access to pathology in the brain. Be it brain tumors, and be it Alzheimer’s disease.
So, one of the things that happen in Alzheimer’sdisease, is that the brain starts to deposit plaques, involves a protein called amyloid, and these plaques begin to destroy the functioning of the brain. And so far the brain doesn’t know how to fight back, so we have to assist. And one of the ideas is that if we could get antibodies against the plaque that associated with Alzheimer’s disease into the brain, maybe we could help that process, and help to remove this amyloid from the brain that is so damaging. We will really be understanding whats happening in the biology of the brain at baseline and then after we do the interventions. ALS is a devastating neurological disease. The neurons in the central nervous system begin to generate, and most patients die within three to five years from this disease. To achieve therapeutic success in ALS we need better access to the central nervous system.
In the past, we’ve done invasive interventions, where we would drill holes in patients’ heads, or perform surgeries the spinal cord to deliver drugs to the central nervous system. We’re conducting a world-first trial, where we’re opening up the blood-brain barrier in patients with ALS, using MRI-guided focus ultrasound. The hope is that this will demonstrate safety in this trial, and then from there, we can move onto test one of our most promising therapeutics, coupled with MRI-guided focus ultrasound, to deliver this therapy right to the brain and spinal cord. In the area of treatment of depression,
we’ve known for decades that surgery to the brain is a very effective treatment but the surgery itself was dangerous or problematic or complicated, and our patients didn’t want it and it was hard to get that treatment. Some of my patients who were aware that surgery was available had absolutely no desire to have surgery for their conditions. But, with focus ultrasound that whole hierarchy, that this is the end of the road and I would never consider it, has completely changed. And many of my patients are actually specifically asking me about this surgical technique for the treatment of depression.
So in order to do this work, we need the support of the hospital, the Research Institute, and the Foundation, which gives us support, through the generosity of donors, in order to do this important work. And maybe someday we can look back and say, “Focused ultrasound was a revolutionary technique, and that we truly have made a difference.” Now, the windows have opened, the blind shave been raised, the sun is in, and I’m starting to live again. If this study can help other people down the road, myself included, and other people, I think it’s awesome. It would bring relief to people who have suffered for years, without any hope, and now they’ve got hope of improving. That is such a gift.