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Ultrasound Provides Breakthrough In Brain Treatment

The blood-brain barrier keeps bacteria out–which is good. But for patients with brain tumors, it also keeps out life-saving medicine. A startup thinks it can fix that by using ultrasound.

Got Brain?

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A new technology could help patients with brain tumors–if it’s first shown to be effective and safe. The device would assist in the treatment of tumors through the use of ultrasound waves to loosen the so-called blood-brain barrier, the densely packed brain cells that keep bacteria out, but unfortunately sometimes keep life-saving chemo out as well.

Perfusion Technology, an Andover, Massachusetts-based company, says it has developed what Technology Review describes today as “a specially designed headset to expose the entire brain to low-intensity ultrasound waves for an hour-long treatment session.”

The idea of using ultrasound to open up the blood-brain barrier is not itself new; people have been fiddling around with the idea for a decade. But where Perfusion Technology has the advantage is that their method wouldn’t require injection of microbubbles or MRI scans, as other ultrasound efforts have required in the past. Current methods also sometimes use an infusion pump or a surgical implant, Perfusion Technology’s CEO Al Kyle told Technology Review. His device skirts all that, rendering the treatment non-invasive.

The device Kyle is working on is designed specifically to treat tumors originating in the brain, not cancers that began elsewhere and metastasized later to the brain. But he thinks the device could be adapted to the latter case, too, as well as help in the treatment of other neurological disorders. Though Kyle has said that Perfusion Technology has completed five animal studies with promising results, and wants to start preparing for human trials next year, it should be stressed that his invention so far hasn’t yet been proven safe and effective in humans. As Harvard medical researcher Nathan McDannold pointed out to the Review, a similar ultrasound device was tested years ago on stroke patients with blood clots (admittedly a rather different test case). It caused “excessive bleeding.”

If Perfusion Technology can prove its technology avoids that frightening scenario, though, McDannold told Technology Review he thought it could have a leg up over current treatments.

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[Image: Flickr user aigarius]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal

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