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The Making of Medicine

FDA Expands Approval of Focused Ultrasound for Parkinson’s

Wonderful news: The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of focused ultrasound for advanced Parkinson's symptoms including dyskinesias (involuntary movements) and problems with rigidity and mobility.

The FDA had already approved the technology for use in treating Parkinson's tremor, based in no small part by pioneering research by our Jeff Elias, MD, and his collaborators. Dr. Elias and his colleague Binit Shah, MD, also played important roles in the testing that paved the way for the latest approval.

“This FDA approval of focused ultrasound pallidotomy allows for more treatment options if medications become ineffective or cause disabling side effects,” Dr. Elias told me. “While this procedure does not provide a cure for Parkinson’s disease, there is now a less invasive option for patients suffering with medication-induced dyskinesia or severe motor deficits.”

Unlike with traditional brain surgery, focused ultrasound does not require incisions or cutting into the skull. Instead, the technology focuses sound waves inside the brain to interrupt faulty brain circuits, much like a magnifying glass can focus light to generate heat. During the procedure, doctors use magnetic-resonance imaging to watch what happens in real-time before making any permanent changes in the brain, helping ensure patients get the best outcomes.

UVA is one of only 37 medical centers in the country with the capacity to perform this procedure. We're very proud of our role in developing this approach, and our folks are exploring the technology's potential for many other diseases. For example, our Jason Sheehan, MD, PhD, is currently conducting a trial to determine if it can offer a better way to treat glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor.

We have a lot of exciting work going on with focused ultrasound, and I'll make sure to keep you posted on our progress.

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