The Foundation recognizes depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder as serious medical diseases and is supporting researchers who are exploring the potential for focused ultrasound to treat these and other mental health conditions. Interestingly, the use of focused ultrasound to treat mental health conditions dates back to the very beginnings of the technology, as the first therapeutic use of focused ultrasound in 1950 was in patients with psychiatric disorders. Due to the lack of reliable imaging and the need for opening the skull (at the time), the procedure was abandoned. With the advent of image-guided focused ultrasound and the creation of a specialized skull transducer that allows noninvasive treatment of brain tissue through the skull bone, there has been a resurgence of interest in focused ultrasound for treatment-refractory major depressive disorder (MDD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Although lifestyle modifications and conventional therapies (psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, etc.) are still the mainstays of treatment for mental health conditions, focused ultrasound may provide a safe and noninvasive treatment alternative in the near future.
Initial studies in South Korea with Jim Woo Chang, MD, inspired current clinical trials in Canada examining the safety and efficacy of focused ultrasound to treat both OCD and MDD through tissue ablation. Nir Lipsman, MD, PhD, of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronoto is the principal investigator for both of these studies. "We now recognize that common and challenging conditions, like depression and OCD, are driven by dysfunctional circuits in the brain. Advances like focused ultrasound can be used to influence those circuits and potentially reset them," stated Dr. Lipsman in a recent interview. Additional clinical studies in the United States at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Stanford University are awaiting FDA approval to begin.
Another area of study for focused ultrasound is the potential of the technology to improve the efficacy of pharmacotherapy drug delivery using focused ultrasound-mediated blood-brain-barrier opening. These studies are broadening the scope of focused ultrasound's utility into the mental health realm, and this work is both exciting and innovative.