High-intensity transcranial focused ultrasound (synonyms FUS and HIFU) under magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) guidance (synonyms MRgFUS and MR-HIFU) is a completely non-invasive technology for accurate thermal ablation of a target tissue while neighboring tissues and organs are preserved.
At the focus, HIFU induces a temperature elevation and the tissue can be thermally destroyed. In fact, this approach has been tested in a number of clinical studies for the treatment of several tumors, primarily the prostate, uterine, breast, bone, liver, kidney and pancreas.
Magnetic resonance imaging-guided focused ultrasound surgery (MRgFUS) is especially appealing for applications in the brain where target volumes have to be accessed with high precision without inflicting collateral damage to surrounding healthy tissue. In 2013 a MRgFUS system was CE certified for the treatment of functional neurological disorders, such as chronic neuropathic pain and movement disorders. Currently, some 400 patients have been treated worldwide using this system, which is also undergoing clinical testing for the treatment of primary brain tumors and brain metastases 1).
The MRgFUS procedure is clinically established in particular for the treatment of symptomatic uterine fibroids, followed by palliative ablation of painful bone metastases. Furthermore, promising results have been shown for the treatment of adenomyosis, malignant tumors of the prostate, breast and liver and for various intracranial applications, such as thermal ablation of brain tumors, functional neurosurgery and transient disruption of the blood-brain barrier 2).
For transcranial brain therapy, the skull bone is a major limitation, however, new adaptive techniques of phase correction for focusing ultrasound through the skull have recently been implemented by research systems, paving the way for HIFU therapy to become an interesting alternative to brain surgery and radiotherapy 3).
The thermal injury to nervous tissue within a specific threshold of 50°C to 60°C with the tissue near the sonication center yielding the greatest effect; adjacent tissue showed minimal changes. Additional studies utilizing this technology are required to further establish accurate threshold parameters for optic nerve thermo-ablation 4).
Future clinical applications of magnetic resonance imaging-guided high-intensity focused ultrasound (MRgHIFU) are moving toward the management of different intracranial pathologies.