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The Making of Medicine

Focused Ultrasound … to Relieve Cocaine Addiction?

I've told you quite a bit about the amazing array of focused ultrasound research under way here at UVA Health, but today I have a particularly unusual potential application: relieving drug addiction.

Our Nassima Ait-Daoud Tiouririne, MD, the director of UVA’s Center for Leading Edge Addiction Research (CLEAR), is conducting a clinical trial evaluating the potential of low-intensity focused ultrasound to reduce the desire for cocaine. The approach aims to use focused sound waves to reprogram cells in the brain that have been associated with addiction cravings. These cells are located in a portion of the brain called the insula, which is thought to be important in multiple forms of addiction.

The new trial is recruiting adults, ages 18 and older, who use cocaine and are not trying to stop. The trial will evaluate whether the sound waves can reduce the study participants' desire for the drug.

If it works, that suggests that the approach might be useful for other forms of addiction, too.

“If successful, we become one step closer to developing new, safer ways to treat addiction,” said Dr. Ait-Daoud Tiouririne, of our Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences. "Addiction is brain disorder. Treatment should include noninvasive neuromodulation of the brain circuits that cause the addiction in the first place.”

For more information about the trial, visit

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