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Neurological diseases: 3D ultrasound brain stimulation offers hope

Neurological diseases: 3D ultrasound brain stimulation offers hope

Usually, 3D ultrasound is used for diagnostic purposes, but in the future, it will be possible to treat diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, depression, addiction, or at least the consequences of strokes – without surgical intervention. For this purpose, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Technology (IBMT) in St. Ingbert are developing a special ultrasound system that uses 256 individually controllable ultrasound transducers to target individual points in deeper areas of the brain and stimulate them precisely through 3D control. In sound. Firmness.

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The institute obtains the data needed for research from the results of a patient's previous MRI scan. Then doctors know which areas of the brain are responsible for the neurological disease. With location data flowing to the control software, “the ultrasound signals can be precisely aligned.”

The transducer is placed on the head using an elastic pad. Patients notice nothing from the treatment. According to the current state of research, ultrasound is harmless due to its low intensity, and the hair does not need to be shaved, but only treated with contact gel. “Ultrasonic frequencies are in the low frequency range below 1 MHz, for example at about 500 kHz,” says a press release. For the transducer, researchers use “piezoelectric elements” that change their surface when a voltage is applied and in this way produce ultrasound waves.

Scientists have been working on these and similar methods — such as electrical stimulation of the brain — for decades, but targeting specific areas as precisely as possible poses challenges. The research team, led by Stephen Tritbahr and industrial partners from Germany, the European Union, the United States of America, Canada and Australia, has high hopes for the new method. “By individually controlling 256 electronic channels, ultrasound therapy becomes capable of 3D imaging. The transducer elements, arranged in a checkerboard pattern, irradiate the desired area of ​​the brain from different angles,” says Tretbaar.

The ultrasound machine can be programmed so that beams are sent in a predetermined sequence or follow certain movement patterns. In the future, all parameters should be able to be set individually. One hope is to alleviate deposits in brain cells in Alzheimer's disease or treat depression. “Researchers can use our technology platform to develop completely different treatments and test them in a series of clinical tests in the future,” says Tretbaar.

“Methods such as stimulation using externally applied magnetic fields do not currently produce optimal results due to the relatively low precision with which they operate,” IBMT wrote. However, placing electrodes in the brain is invasive and risky. This was recently demonstrated in the case of a patient whose electrodes implanted by Neuralink were disconnected. He is the first patient to have a brain-computer interface.


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