Ultrasound Tech Repurposed to Treat Diseases

Old imaging technology that’s been used in medicine for nearly 100 years is now being explored for it’s exciting new potential in treating cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and even colitis. Ultrasound, which has been used for decades to view images of unborn fetus’ (or submarines), is being repurposed to deliver drugs to targeted points in the body, even through the nearly impenetrable blood-brain barrier that’s made treating neurological conditions so difficult.

Researchers have found that the micro bubbles used to improve ultrasound images can be chemically altered to seek targeted tissue in the body or to oscillate and grow until they open the blood-brain barrier allowing chemotherapy or anti-seizure drug to pass through. 

According to a recent report in Wired, researchers are working to perfect the technology to ensure the brain barrier would open without bursting the micro bubbles and causing permanent damage.  At present, Alzheimer patients in a clinical trial at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto are fitted with ultrasound helmets and an MRI machine is used to ensure the sonic waves are sent to the correct place.  To become a viable treatment option, the technology would need to be made portable and programmable for use in clinics and doctor offices.

Clinical trials at Sunnybrook are funded by Focused Ultrasound Foundation, based in Virginia, where researchers are also investigating using the technology in combination with immunotherapy drugs to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology also recently discovered that sending ultrasound waves through the colon, which has difficulty absorbing anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat Crohn’s disease, colitis and inflammatory bowel disease, has shown promising success in mice and pigs curing them of colitis symptoms.  Continuing development to ready the technology for clinical testing in ongoing by biotech startup Suono Bio, with support from The Engine, MIT’s technology and science incubator.

To learn more about the Blood-Brain-Barrier clinic trial, follow this link to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.  And to read more about other ultrasound research projects, visit the Focused Ultrasound Foundation website here.