Focused Ultrasound Against Chronic Pain
Mark V. Kingsley
With the mention of ultrasound, the first thing that may come to mind for many people is black and white photographs of fetuses in the womb. Those images have improved significantly with improvements in technology, and with those improvements, the use of ultrasound is increasingly being recognized as potentially revolutionary in treatment as much as it is in diagnostics. Last month, I wrote about a company, BrainSonix, which is utilizing one such new development in ultrasound technology: focused ultrasound. To summarize, Low-Intensity Focused Ultrasound Pulsation (LIFUP) is a technology that allows for neuromodulation, the alteration of nerve activity through some method of stimulation – in this case, high-frequency sound waves. This advanced technology was making headlines with recent successes waking up coma patients, which you can read more about here.
Already, researchers and physicians have seen myriad possibilities in ultrasound neuromodulation for treating chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease. For instance, Dr. Jeffrey Elias of the University of Virginia was able to treat patients with essential tremor using ultrasound. This feat is significant because essential tremor shares commonalities with Parkinson’s. This success story has generated even more excitement around ultrasound, even in the world of literature. Novelist John Grisham wrote a novella in 2018 about the kind of technology UVA is utilizing called “The Tumor.” But the technology is no mere science fiction conceit and increased awareness promises to provide further funding into a potentially life-changing treatment.
Chronic pain has become a significant health problem in the United States. Focused ultrasound is already being viewed as a potential treatment without the addiction dangers associated with opioids. Research into focused ultrasound for the treatment of nerve injuries and the pain caused by cancer is underway. It could also be used for directly targeting tumors and even providing a solution to overcoming the blood-brain barrier, allowing further focused ultrasound to stimulate the immune system. The list of exciting uses for focused ultrasound continues to grow and be realized, illustrating that technological progress previously unimaginable has the potential to become a routine part of everyday life in the very near future.