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Using Sound Waves to Treat a Wide Spectrum of Diseases

In the field of medicine, ultrasound imaging is widely used, from monitoring the development of an unborn baby to assessing a patient’s heart function. But, doctors and researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH)have been channeling ultrasonic waves to actually treat major conditions and diseases, including movement disorders and cancer.

Known as MR-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS), this technique uses high intensity ultrasonic waves combined with MR thermometry (measurement of temperature) to target and treat diseased tissue. There are no surgical incisions involved in focused ultrasound treatment, and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging precisely guides and monitors the treatment. Focused ultrasound is used to treat essential tremor and uterine fibroids and is being studied for the treatment of brain tumors, breast lesions, bone tumors, heart rhythm conditions, and more.

“A non-invasive way to effectively treat a wide range of medical issues, MR-guided focused ultrasound also is very versatile, enabling us to reach certain areas that would not be possible or very difficult for us to treat through conventional surgery,” explains Dr. Clare Tempany, Principal Investigator of the National Center for Image-Guided Therapy and Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Radiology at BWH. Dr. Tempany was among the first to evaluate MR-guided focused ultrasound treatment for uterine fibroids, now FDA approved for this purpose and performed at BWH for select patients.

Dr. G. Rees Cosgrove, Director of Epilepsy and Functional Neurosurgery at BWH, is using MR-guided focused ultrasound to treat patients with essential tremor, a movement disorder that frequently causes uncontrollable shaking of the hands and forearms. This treatment is delivered without anesthesia, and it does not require any incision in the skull or brain.

“The improvements that we have seen in the quality of life among patients who have undergone this treatment have been dramatic,” says Dr. Cosgrove. “The effects are immediate for patients with essential tremor, so we can see the change as we perform the procedure.”

BWH researchers are also working to open the blood-brain barrier using lower doses of focused ultrasound. A shield of tightly packed cells in the blood vessels, the blood-brain barrier is designed to protect the brain but often prevents medications that treat tumors and neurologic diseases from reaching the brain.

Learn how MR-guided focused ultrasound is being used to treat essential tremor, a movement disorder that commonly causes uncontrollable shaking of the hands and forearms.