Krystyna Barnard
October 24, 2019

Faculty in the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science (VUIIS) have been awarded a $3.6 million grant by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering for their project, “Development of an MRgFUS system for precision-targeted neuromodulation of pain circuits with simultaneous functional MRI.” Principal investigators (PIs) on the project include Charles Caskey, PhD, Assistant Professor of Radiology; Limin Chen, PhD, Associate Professor of Radiology; and Will Grissom, PhD, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering. 

Performed in response to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Helping to End Addition Long-term (HEAL) Initiative, the project aims to develop a noninvasive, FDA-approved device that delivers targeted pain therapy to patients using integrated magnetic resonance (MR) image-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) with functional MRI feedback. It is expected to induce analgesia and pain relief, and to help select patients for invasive treatments such as deep brain stimulation.

“In the clinical management of pain there is an unmet need for a noninvasive method that can precisely target and modify the neural activity within brain regions engaged in pain nociception, and provide simultaneous feedback of the effects of treatment,” said Dr. Chen. “By the end of the project, we expect to have a fully developed and validated MRgFUS system that is ready for pilot clinical trials in various pain management applications.”

Upon completion of the three-year development project, PIs say the next step will be to start a phase I clinical trial in various pain management applications. Patients with central post-stroke pain will be the first group to undergo treatment.  

The research program in MR-guided neuromodulation at Vanderbilt has received recognition from the NIH and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation previously. 

“VUIIS provides a unique environment and a combination of expertise in ultrasound, MRI, and basic and applied neuroscience that are needed for such development,” added Dr. Caskey.

Colleagues collaborating on the project include John Gore, PhD, Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and Director of VUIIS; Peter Konrad, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurological Surgery and Vice Chair for Research and Innovation; and Benoit Dawant, PhD, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering.