Brain Care: Focused Ultrasound Game-Changer

Ultimately, the brain is what defines us as humans — and can cause us to behave at times worse than beasts.

The brain is the one organ of the body that cannot be replaced, at least for now. The neural connections that define our personality and cognitive ability is a unique pattern. We don’t know how to replicate it or what an attempt to replicate would produce.

All other body functions at least in theory work according to directions from the brain.

Given its importance, the body is designed to protect the brain. The first line of defense is the skull. The second line consists of the endothelial cells that line blood vessels in the brain. The purpose of these cells is to prevent toxins and other threats from entering the brain from the blood stream. This is also known as the blood-brain barrier.

Neither defense is perfect. Skulls can be fractured, although it takes work. Concussions as we have discussed can cause damage without fracture. Diseases like Covid-19 can attack the endothelial cells and break the barrier into the brain from the blood vessels.

Sometimes, we want to breach the barrier when there are already diseases in the brain requiring treatment. In the past, the only option was some form of surgical intervention, with the risk of collateral damage to other areas of the brain potentially affecting the patient’s quality of life.

Now we have something new. By stimulating bubbles in the blood stream, a focused ultrasound beam can create a temporary opening in the endothelial cells allowing medication to pass from blood vessels into the brain.

Souorce: National Geographic

Focused ultrasound isn’t new. The technique has been around for fifteen years, initially for treatment of uterine fibroids, prostate cancer and prostate gland enlargement. Now work is underway to used focused ultrasound to treat some 160 diseases including Parkinson’s.

The ability to create a safe and temporary opening in the blood-brain barrier was first demonstrated at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto (Canada) in 2015. Their work has since been replicated by teams at other research facilities. One of the leading centers for this work in the US is at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The Sunnybrook team passed another milestone in October 2021. Using a therapeutic antibody with a radioactive tag, the team tracked the antibody as it crossed the barrier and entered the brain, reaching cancer cells that had metastasized there from the breast.

National Geographic (1)

The beauty of this ultrasound method for brain treatment is that the blood-brain barrier returns to its original state within 24 hours. That is, the barrier returns to normal operation. It’s like pulling back a curtain, and then letting the curtain fall back into place.

Now that we have a way to get medication into the brain without risking physical damage to the brain, the interesting question becomes, what else can we use this to do?

The bibliography below is an indication of how big a deal focused ultrasound is. The institutions involved are major players in medical research, located in the Northeast, in the Middle Atlantic Coast, Cleveland and California. While FDA approval for treatment of brain tumors and some other conditions is expected within 24 to 48 months, it may be quite awhile longer before much of the US has access to this therapy.

That’s why supplemental critical illness insurance may become even more vital going forward, providing funds to allow patients to travel for treatment.

By the way, National Geographic is a Disney imprint.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.