Brain surgery... without a scalpel?

Nov 24, 2021

UVa researchere Kevin Lee pioneered the new technology.
Credit University of Virginia

Researchers at the University of Virginia have developed a way to operate on the brain - without a scalpel.  WMRA's Randi B. Hagi has more.

UVA researcher Kevin Lee has pioneered a new technology called PING -- a noninvasive way to target and destroy problematic clumps of brain cells. It could be used to treat conditions such as epilepsy.

KEVIN LEE: About two-thirds of people respond to available anti-seizure medications, but about one-third of patients do not. And those patients become candidates, some of them do, for surgery, and it's highly effective in terms of stopping seizures if you can go in and cut out the area of the brain that's generating the seizures.

Of course, traditional brain surgery is very invasive, and Lee said many people who could benefit from it are too afraid to get the procedure. But maybe they'd be more amenable to PING.

First, an MRI would be used to locate the problem cells. Then a toxin would be injected into the person's bloodstream. Normally that toxin can't get through the blood-brain barrier, but a specialized helmet that emits ultrasound beams -- in layman's terms -- zaps open a tiny portal right by those target cells, and the toxin hops in only where it needs to be.

LEE:  I'm using epilepsy as an example, but it might be in the future that you would use this for treating movement disorders like Parkinson's disease.

Lee said there's still a long road ahead before they're ready for clinical trials with people, but he's in contact with researchers at Stanford who are helping to confirm his findings.