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Focused Ultrasound Homepage

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Focused ultrasound is making waves in pediatric medicine

By Tim Meakem
From the March 2018 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine

Valuable diagnostic and imaging tools for decades, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) play pivotal roles in pediatric care.

In fact, the very first glimpse we are offered of a child in utero is delivered by sound waves, while many pediatric diseases are diagnosed via MRI. But pioneering researchers are turning these technologies into a therapy that improves the quality of life for children, and could potentially save lives.

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Focused ultrasound works much like a magnifying glass that is focusing beams of light on a single point to burn a hole in a leaf. Concentrating multiple intersecting beams of ultrasound on tissue deep in the body results in energy at the focal point that is high enough to heat and destroy the target cells, without damaging intervening or surrounding tissue. When coupled with focused ultrasound, MRI allows the physician to visualize the target, monitor the treatment in real time and immediately assess post-treatment results.

Focused ultrasound is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in adults to treat essential tremor, cancer that has metastasized to the bones, uterine fibroids and the prostate. However, more than 100 other conditions are in various stages of research and clinical trials.

Great potential in pediatrics
Focused ultrasound offers many benefits over traditional therapy, especially for the pediatric population. There are no incisions, which eliminates one of the leading threats to patient safety – infection. The recovery time can be much less than with surgery, with patients almost always returning home the same day and quickly going back to school and other daily activities.

Possibly the biggest advantage focused ultrasound holds over other therapies is what it lacks. Traditionally, patients might be prescribed weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, but focused ultrasound could eliminate the need for this toxic exposure. This is especially important in children, as radiation exposure is often contraindicated for young patients. Also, the lack of the toxicity limits, which are present with radiation and chemotherapy, means that focused ultrasound is repeatable.

A big first for a tiny patient
A team of researchers and clinicians at Stanford University has been using MR-guided focused ultrasound for children since 2013 and believe fully in its potential to change patients’ lives. Stanford Medicine recently reported on one important case, a 3-year-old girl who was born with a desmoid tumor on her right forearm.
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