Baptist Health Miami Neuroscience Institute and FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine Partner to Study the Effects of Ultrasound Waves on the Brain
July 29, 2022 – Baptist Health Miami Neuroscience Institute and Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University are collaborating to offer a new clinical trial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The study uses low-intensity focused ultrasound to disrupt brain changes that lead to damage to neurons that cause memory and cognition problems in patients.
The experimental study, called ExAblate Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) Disruption for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, could revolutionize the care of people with Alzheimer’s disease, said co-lead researcher Michael McDermott, MD, neurosurgeon and medical director of the Miami Neuroscience Institute and professor and head of the division of neuroscience at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.
“The technology is very exciting, especially because there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and only a few drug treatments that temporarily treat symptoms,” said Dr. McDermott. “It’s non-invasive for patients and hopefully will lead to cognitive improvement.”
The FDA-approved clinical trial, which is currently enrolling patients, is part of Florida’s Brain State initiative, which funds and brings together Florida hospitals, state universities and institutions. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death among people age 65 and older in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Florida has the second highest incidence of Alzheimer’s with nearly 600,000 cases.
High Intensity Ultrasound technology, developed by Insightec, has already proven to be a game changer for patients who cannot perform common tasks such as holding a cup of water without spilling it, shaving safely or write legibly due to essential tremor. For essential tremor, high-intensity focused ultrasound (HiFU) waves are targeted to hit the area of abnormal circuitry in the brain. In just one session, patients see immediate improvement.
Geriatric psychiatrist and co-principal investigator of the Alzheimer’s disease study, Patricia Junquera, MD, hopes to see similar results with low-intensity ultrasound. “We expect to see improvements within days of the procedure,” said the associate professor and vice chair of clinical services in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at CRF’s College of Medicine. “Any improvement we see will be huge because patients with Alzheimer’s disease usually cannot create new memories or manage daily life functions.”
To determine if they are eligible for the study, patients must first be referred to Dr. Junquera by their treating physician, neurologist or psychiatrist. An evaluation at the CRF will be done to determine if a patient’s dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease and not by other problems.
The assessment includes a battery of psychological tests and can take several hours. A caretaker or family member must also be present.
Next, the patient is seen at Baptist Hospital, where Dr. McDermott performs additional medical and imaging tests.
If the patient meets the study inclusion criteria, participation in the study begins with the fixation of a stereotactic frame on the scalp under local anesthesia. With MRI guidance, ultrasound waves are directed to predetermined areas of the brain. Patients are observed for several hours and are also seen the following day. The study includes three treatments, two weeks apart. After each session and at checkpoints along the way, patients will repeat imagery and psychological testing. Dr. Junquera will continue to follow patients for 5 years after the final treatment.
In addition to Baptist Health and FIU, other organizations participating in the clinical trial include Florida Atlantic University, Delray Medical Center, University of Florida, Broward Health, Weill Cornell Medical College Koch Companies Public Sector, Focused Ultrasound Foundation and Insightec. The research builds on a previous smaller study conducted by Weill Cornell Medicine, The Ohio State University – Wexner Medical Center and West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Center. The Florida Legislature approved funding for the study.
About the Miami Neuroscience Institute
The Miami Neuroscience Institute offers comprehensive, compassionate treatment for neurological conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system. From non-surgical treatments and minimally invasive procedures to complex brain and spine surgery, the Institute takes a multidisciplinary approach to patient care.
The Miami Neuroscience Institute is part of Baptist Health South Florida, the region’s largest healthcare organization, with 12 hospitals, more than 24,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 ambulatory care centers, nursing homes emergency and medical offices covering Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Baptist Health has world-class centers of excellence in cancer, cardiovascular care, orthopedics and sports medicine, and neuroscience. Also, it includes Baptist Health Medical Group; Baptist Health Quality Network; and Baptist Health Care On Demand, a virtual health platform. A nonprofit organization backed by philanthropy and committed to its charitable mission of faith-based medical excellence, Baptist Health has been recognized by Fortune as one of America’s 100 Best Companies to Work For and by Ethisphere as the one of the most ethical companies. For more information, visit BaptistHealth.net/Newsroom and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
About Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine
Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine is South Florida’s first public medical school and the second most diverse medical school in the nation, according to US News & World Report. The college emphasizes cultural competence, social responsibility and community service. Through our innovative Green Family Foundation Neighborhood Health Education and Learning Program (NeighborhoodHELP), students learn first-hand how social factors critically impact health and disease. We are training the next generation of socially responsible doctors, scientists and healthcare professionals.