Hallo, you beautiful bastards. It’s been a while since I’ve done a post that needed some research, but—just for you—I dusted off Dave’s research boots and put him to work. Today, I’d like to discuss ultrasound! You’ve no doubt heard of ultrasound as it applies to medical imaging—peeping the unborn babes, assessing muscle trauma, generally viewing those soft, delicate inner tissues. Huh … That came off a little weird.
Anyway, I’m not talking about ultrasound as an imaging tool. I’m talking about ultrasound as a treatment. For instance …
Ultrasonic Frequencies Stimulate Intact Brain Cells
In a 2010 study, scientists investigated “the influence of transcranial pulsed ultrasound on neuronal activity in the intact mouse brain [and in deeper subcortical circuits] used targeted transcranial ultrasound to stimulate neuronal activity and synchronous oscillations in the intact hippocampus.” Oh, kids, isn’t science fun?
This study aims at finding a non-invasive brain stimulation method that does not suffer from the limitations of current methods, which include low spatial resolution, low spatial precision, and genetic manipulation.
Using transcranial pulsed ultrasound on the motor cortex and hippocampus could have several medical applications, specifically regarding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Speaking of …
In 2016, the FDA approved a similar treatment—called focused ultrasound thalamotomy—to treat people suffering from essential tremor (ET). According to the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, focused ultrasound offers the following benefits:
- It is a non-invasive, single treatment that enables patients to recover rapidly and quickly return to activities of normal life (usually the next day).
- Compared to radiofrequency ablation or deep brain stimulation (DBS), focused ultrasound offers a reduced risk of infection, of damage to the non-targeted area, and of blood clot formation.
- Focused ultrasound offers rapid resolution of symptoms.
- In contrast to lesioning performed with stereotactic radiosurgery, focused ultrasound does not use ionizing radiation, thus avoiding the side effects of exposure to radiation.
- Because it is non-invasive, focused ultrasound could be an option for medically refractory ET patients (those who do not respond well to medication) who do not want to undergo surgery.
So, focused ultrasound thalamotomy uses MRI to aim ultrasonic waves at the thalamus. According to W. Jamie Tyler (who took part in the 2010 study), “We can focus the ultrasound through the skull to a part of the thalamus about the size of a grain of rice.” Ahem: precision. From there, the ultrasound kills ET-causing neurons in the thalamus, according to Esther Landhuis’s article Ultrasound for the Brain.
Landhuis goes on to explain that scientists are branching out to focus on treating psychiatric disorders with an emerging technology called focused ultrasound neuromodulation. This technology can boost or suppress small groups of neurons to “potentially treat other movement disorders, as well as depression, anxiety and a host of intractable neuropsychiatric disorders.”
Minimally Invasive is Still Invasive
When discussing surgery in general, the phrase “minimally invasive” is a good thing. Well, you know … It’s not a terrible thing. However, when it’s your brain you’re talking about, minimally invasive is still pretty fucking invasive. DBS, for example, is a minimally invasive form of neuromodulation. While DBS has been around longer, focused ultrasound offers a more precise, non-invasive means of treatment.
The brain is pretty special organ and it’s, you know, important to your being able to function.