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Neurosciences and Behavioral Health Center

Focused Ultrasound Research

Learn how Jeff Elias, MD, a neurosurgeon at UVA, is exploring the potential of MRI-guided focused ultrasound to treat movement disorders. like Parkinson's, essential tremor.

Focused Ultrasound Research

This story originated in our online journal, Innovation.

Jeff Elias, MD, a neurosurgeon at UVA, is exploring the potential of MRI-guided focused ultrasound to treat movement disorders.

A clinical trial was performed on 15 participants at UVA’s Focused Ultrasound Center. With each participant, the UVA team performed a thalamotomy by using focused sound waves to heat tissue sufficient to create a small ablation (average size 3-5 millimeters). Because the focused ultrasound is MRI-guided, the team was able to monitor the potential effects before creating the ablation.

All 15 participants who underwent the procedure experienced “significant improvement” in their dominant hand tremor and reported substantial improvement in their quality of life. In addition, every participant reported essentially no residual disability from tremor at one year after treatment.

The most common side effects reported were unsteadiness or tingling in face or fingers, but these resolved quickly or were mild. The most serious adverse effect was a persistent uncomfortable sensation in a singular participant’s dominant index finger. 

 “Our first experience has been very successful, and we are looking forward to the next trials in Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and brain tumor therapy,” says Elias.

Elias’ trial demonstrated that high-intensity ultrasound can be focused through the scalp and skull with great precision. The results of focused ultrasound for the treatment of essential tremor have spoken to the potential of scalpel-free brain surgery. 

Research Highlights at UVA

  • Elias demonstrated that focused beams of ultrasound energy could treat targeted areas of brain tissue effectively. Read more: UVA Reveals Findings of Successful Trial of Focused Ultrasound for Essential Tremor. The essential tremor research has been supported by InSightec, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation and the BIRD Foundation.
  • Investigating new options: UVA continues to lead the field in fighting neurological disorders with focused ultrasound. We are one of the first programs investigating whether focused ultrasound can help relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.
  • Expertise: Our neurosurgeons and neurologists are at the forefront of recent advancements in the care of stroke, brain tumors and other brain conditions. Read more about our neuroscience clinical trials & research

Published: Clinical Trial Results

Read the results in the New England Journal of Medicine about our pioneering trial of using focused ultrasound for essential tremor.