Looking to the Future of Focused Ultrasound for Essential Tremor

It’s a good feeling to have an ally, someone who has your back and is looking out for you. While this is true for individuals and groups, it’s also true for advances in medical technology. Change in medicine is typically slow and frustrating. Therefore, any person or entity that has a stake in a promising clinical breakthrough becomes an ally in the interest of converting an idea into a proven and approved reality.

An ally for Focused Ultrasound

Essential tremor (ET) is considered the most common movement disorder, yet no one knows why it begins or how to cure it. In fact, no one knows exactly what “it” is, because it’s not just one thing. Experts point to differences in the age of onset, the part(s) of the body that are affected, response to medication, the rate at which ET progresses, whether it runs in the family or not, etc. Clearly, ET is not a single, universal condition. This is not only frustrating for doctors who specialize in movement disorders, but disappointing for patients who search for support by finding someone with the same experience.

There is, however, a noninvasive high-tech neurosurgical treatment that seems to succeed for nearly everyone with hand tremors. It’s called MRI-guided Focused Ultrasound, or MRgFUS or simply FUS. Although neurosurgery sounds invasive, ultrasound is not. It can pass through the scalp, skull and brain tissue because it is sound energy traveling in waves. Think of it as a kind of “wi-fi” treatment in the brain.

It’s a long road to bring a new medical technology to the marketplace. There are economic issues such as need for investors, funding clinical trials, regulatory dynamics with sometimes conflicting interests, internal politics, research and development complications—so many places where roadblocks and disappointments can occur.

Thankfully, FUS has an energetic, dedicated ally in the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. The organization was founded in 2006 with a mission to “improve the lives of millions of people with serious medical disorders by accelerating the development and adoption of focused ultrasound.”[i]

Are we there yet?

From the Foundation’s viewpoint, this can’t happen soon enough. Like eager kids on a road trip to Disneyland, its members want to know “how much longer till we get there?” In many ways, FUS has the same magical quality that the imaginative Walt Disney brought to people everywhere, combining a medical Fantasyland with Tomorrowland. It’s incredible to think of harmless sound energy being harnessed to interrupt abnormal movement messages by deadening a tiny relay deep in the brain.

At Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, we see the FUS magic happen when, for the first time in years or even decades, a person with ET experiences the full use of a hand without tremors. The Focused Ultrasound Foundation is working hard to extend this benefit to as many persons with ET as possible.

In addition to managing tremors in the dominant hand, the future will soon bring ways to treat hand tremors on both sides. Currently, a sequential approach is being tested, with first one side then the other side many months later. This method is believed to reduce the risk of side effects that may occur if both sides are treated at the same time.

Besides ET, there are more applications of FUS in the brain than Disney himself might have dreamed of. When it comes to improving life for those with neurological disorders, 2019 was a big year for the Foundation. In their Annual Report, they write:

This year brought major progress in using focused ultrasound in the brain to treat a wide variety of diseases; pilot clinical trials of feasibility and safety were completed, initiated, or are ongoing for Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), primary and metastatic brain tumors, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, dystonia, epilepsy, pain, essential tremor, and Parkinson’s—including the first staged bilateral treatments for the latter two conditions.[ii]

FUS in the brain and other body locations is fortunate to have a powerfully motivated ally. If you’re looking for inspiring news, take time to read through the Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s annual report for 2019. When it comes to optimism over treating ET and many other conditions, it’s a real boost.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] https://www.fusfoundation.org/the-foundation/overview
[ii] http://www.fusfoundation.org/images/pdf/Focused_Ultrasound_Foundation_2019_Year_in_Review_Report.pdf


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Neurosurgery Associates.

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