The Next Big Therapeutic Solution Could Involve Sound Waves

Focused ultrasound has a growing appeal

Sound waves
Sound waves can do amazing things.
Amanda.yuu - Own work, CC BY 4.0

Finding the most appropriate way to treat neurological conditions isn’t easy. Taking invasive steps to operate on the brain can be a risky course of action — especially if there’s a non-invasive option on the table. As it turns out, there’s growing evidence that certain conditions, such as essential tremor, can be successfully treated using sound waves.

To clarify: these aren’t just any sound waves we’re talking about; taking in live music isn’t likely to address a chronic physical condition. But a technique known as focused ultrasound has shown promise in addressing several conditions, including the aforementioned essential tremor. The Cleveland Clinic notes that focused ultrasound uses magnetic resonance imagery to locate something within the body, at which point ultrasound beams target it repeatedly.

A recent CNN article quotes Neal Kassel, founder of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, on the technique’s benefits. He compared focused ultrasound to “using a magnifying glass to focus beams of light on a point and burn a hole in a leaf.” The article goes on to describe a patient who had been dealing with a tremor in her hand for 20 years. After 44 seconds of ultrasound treatment, the tremor went away.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the FDA has approved focused ultrasound for treatment of both essential tremor and tremor-dominant Parkinson’s disease. That list may well increase in the future — CNN’s report notes that a number of clinical trials for various uses for focused ultrasound around the world.

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