LaConte Insightec

By David Hungate


Led by Stephen LaConte (center), Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists are working with technology company INSIGHTEC to study medical and diagnostic ultrasound technology. Working alongside LaConte are Douglas Chan (left), a research assistant in LaConte's lab, and Nate Kelm, a clinical research and development specialist with a focus on neurosurgery at INSIGHTEC.

Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute partners with INSIGHTEC to research focused ultrasound technology

Researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI) are partnering with INSIGHTEC to develop noninvasive treatments for brain disorders using Exablate Neuro focused ultrasound and Siemens MR imaging.

Through this collaboration, the institute became INSIGHTEC's first nonclinical research site.

“There is considerable basic research to be done in order to develop safe and efficacious protocols for these treatments, and we are excited to be one of the research sites to carry this breakthrough technology forward,” said Stephen LaConte, an associate professor with VTCRI and also with the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in the College of Engineering.

VTCRI Executive Director Michael Friedlander has worked closely with the Focused Ultrasound Foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia, to develop collaborations on the application of MR-guided Focused Ultrasound research programs at VTCRI.

These approaches include potential noninvasive treatments of cancer, including for brain tumors; targeted disruption of the blood-brain barrier for delivery of therapeutics to the brain; and neuromodulation to treat psychiatric disorders.

“Collaboration with academic centers of excellence, such as VTCRI, is a key component of INSIGHTEC's heritage of innovation. Collaboration fuels the scientific breakthroughs that ultimately improve patient lives,” said Maurice R. Ferré, INSIGHTEC's CEO and chairman of the board.

INSIGHTEC is the leading medical technology company in Israel. Friedlander initially met with INSIGHTEC scientific and business leaders in January 2017 at the 35th annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco.

“It is an honor to be selected by INSIGHTEC to become one of their key research and innovation sites to advance this technology to potentially help so many patients,” Friedlander said. “We share a common vision, a culture of discovery and openness, and a commitment to study and develop scientifically validated technological innovations to treat patients with otherwise untreatable brain disorders. Moreover, the technological innovation that the VTCRI’s Stephen LaConte and his colleagues can bring to this platform can benefit the development of powerful new treatments in companion animals as well as humans, consistent with the vision of a combined human-animal health research nexus on the Virginia Tech Carilion Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke.”

In initial testing, VTCRI researchers will use a Siemens scanner to take MRI images of volunteers and determine whether the presence of FUS equipment in the scanner affects the quality or accuracy of the images.

“Hopefully we can do the characterization and move toward product innovations — improving the imaging to compensate for the device, as well as the device to compensate for the imaging,” LaConte said. “I think we can help INSIGHTEC integrate its next-generation technology with the Siemens platform. We are very good at taking the image-processing component and tying it into their product.”

Exablate Neuro employs more than 1,000 ultrasound beams focused on a single spot to ablate tissue without damaging surrounding structures.

“Neurosurgeons use focused ultrasound technology to noninvasively destroy deep brain tumors,” LaConte said. “Instead of radiation, focused ultrasound adds vibrational energy to the tumor to ablate it. Normally, ultrasound is not going to affect a tumor, but focused on a single spot, you can generate enough energy to make a therapeutic difference. It is like using a magnifying glass to take the sun’s rays and focus them all on one point.”

“Exablate Neuro can make a very small thermal lesion in a problematic area of the brain to eliminate tremor — a current FDA-approved use of the technology in human patients,” Friedlander said. “A new approach to be explored by VTCRI investigators would not damage brain tissue, but provides subtle modulation of activity in specified networks of neurons to noninvasively treat a variety of disorders. It may be the most exciting promise of this powerful new modality."