Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have helped to create a noninvasive way to remove diseased cells from the brain without a scalpel.


According to a release, this method can remove faulty brain circuits, allowing doctors to treat various neurological diseases, such as epilepsy, without the need for conventional brain surgery.


Working with colleagues at Stanford University, the researchers found that this approach could revolutionize the treatment of some of the most challenging neurological diseases. These can include epilepsy, movement disorders and others.


This approach uses low-intensity focused ultrasound waves in combination with microbubbles to briefly penetrate the natural defenses of the brain and allows the targeted delivery of a neurotoxin.


The release says the neurotoxin then kills the targeted cells while leaving healthy cells alone and preserving the brain’s surrounding tissue.


“This novel surgical strategy has the potential to supplant existing neurosurgical procedures used for the treatment of neurological disorders that don’t respond to medication,” said researcher Kevin S. Lee, PhD, of UVA’s Departments of Neuroscience and Neurosurgery. “This unique approach eliminates the diseased brain cells, spares adjacent healthy cells and achieves these outcomes without even having to cut into the scalp.”


This new approach is called PING, and it has already been shown to have potential in laboratory studies to treat versions of epilepsy that do not respond to medication.


The release says that PING can be used to reduce or eliminate seizures in two research models of epilepsy, raising the possibility of treating epilepsy without traditional brain surgery.


Another potential advantage of this approach is that it could encourage surgical treatment of appropriate patients who have been reluctant to undergo conventional surgery.


The researchers have described their work in a paper published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, writing they can use PING to eliminate neurons in a brain region while sparing non-target cells in the area.


The release says that a key advantage of this approach is its precision because of how PING harnesses magnetic-resonance imaging to let scientists see inside the patient’s skull and guide the sound waves exactly where they are needed.


The paper states that PING allows the delivery of a highly-targeted neurotoxin, eliminating problematic neurons without causing collateral damage.


It can also be used on irregularly shaped targets in areas that are normally very difficult or impossible to reach through regular surgical techniques.


“Our hope is that the PING strategy will become a key element in the next generation of very precise, noninvasive, neurosurgical approaches to treat major neurological disorders,” said Lee


This research is part of efforts at the UVA Health System to explore the potential of focused ultrasound to treat complex diseases throughout the body.


Focused ultrasound has already approved the use of focused ultrasound to treat essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease.


It is being researched for potential applications in other conditions, such as breast cancer and glioblastoma.