Focused Ultrasound Foundation Honors Sunnybrook Health Sciences with Excellence Award

Margarida Azevedo, MSc avatar

by Margarida Azevedo, MSc |

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The Focused Ultrasound Foundation has recognized Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada, as a Centre of Excellence for accelerating research progress through collaboration to treat diseases like those of the central nervous system, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

“With an unparalleled team of scientists and clinicians, Sunnybrook has been in the vanguard of focused ultrasound innovation, making groundbreaking progress on many fronts,” Neal F. Kassell, MD, the foundation’s chairman, said in a press release. “They are a model for other sites – not only because of their world-class knowledge and experience, but also for the collaborations they have forged with institutions across specialties and geographies.”

The Focused Ultrasound Foundation was created to improve the lives of patients of several diseases by accelerating the development of focused ultrasound (FUS).

Focused ultrasound uses ultrasonic energy guided by real-time imaging to treat tissue deep inside the body without the need for incisions or radiation. Multiple intersecting beams of ultrasound are pointed at the target, and much like a magnifying glass, can focus multiple beams on a single point without each individual beam affecting the remaining tissue.

The convergence of beams at the focal point, however, results in several important biological effects and can be used in the treatment of uterine fibroids, bone metastasis, pain, and prostate tumors.

Sunnybrook has one of the most well-known FUS research programs in the world. The center is led by Kullervo Hynynen, PhD, a pioneering physicist, and Nir Lipsman, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon and scientist, and hosts 10 principal investigators, all leading studies to advance FUS at Sunnybrook.

“In one institution, we have all of the key players and expertise to advance a pipeline from hypothesis to idea generation, technical development, preclinical modeling, and on to clinical trials and commercial treatment,” Lipsman said. “I think that it is truly unprecedented.”

Sunnybrook President and CEO Barry McLellan said the facility’s vision as an academic health sciences center “is to invent the future of healthcare, and we believe that with focused ultrasound, we truly are inventing the future. This is not just for the patients we treat here; we are having an impact around the globe.”

Sunnybrook’s Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics leads most of the current studies. The Canadian government contributed $75 million to build the center, and $86 million was raised in private and institutional investments.

The Sunnybrook center includes research in neurology, neurosurgery, urology, orthopedics, gynecology, radiation oncology and biomedical engineering.

“To help get focused ultrasound to benefit as many patients as possible, we are very open to collaboration,” Hynynen said. “This work cannot be done at just one center, and that is where I see the Focused Ultrasound Foundation as being so instrumental in stimulating collaboration and progress.”

In the past five years, Hynynen has published over 80 scientific articles with researchers from more than 30 institutions.

Hynynen’s team goal is to conduct research in enhancing the technical aspect of FUS to make it as safe, efficient and accessible as possible, and in expanding clinical applications by identifying the medical conditions that are most appropriate for this technology.

Sunnybrook’s research program includes clinical trials open for Parkinson’s disease, movement disorders, bone metastases, and others.

The center’s team has published groundbreaking human experience with FUS to treat essential tremor, and they were also pioneers in using FUS to open the blood-brain barrier (BBB) noninvasively and temporarily in a patient to deliver chemotherapy to a brain tumor. The research team plans to explore this option in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and conditions of the central nervous system (CNS).

Neuroscientist Isabelle Aubert, PhD, is already leading a team conducting research in FUS for the CNS. Her lab is evaluating preclinical models for immunotherapy, cell therapy and gene therapy in Alzheimer’s and, together with other scientists, Aubert and Hynynen are developing FUS therapies for Parkinson’s and ALS.

“Focused ultrasound has amazing potential for treating disorders of the brain and spinal cord,” Aubert said. “In addition to delivering critical therapeutics to neural tissue, we are exploring using the technology to promote glial and neuronal plasticity, which can enhance function.”