UVA Health, Focused Ultrasound launch $8M center
Center to combine focused ultrasound, cancer immunotherapy treatment
University of Virginia Health and Charlottesville-based Focused Ultrasound Foundation invested $8 million into launching the Focused Ultrasound Cancer Immunotherapy Center, the health system announced Wednesday.
“We are excited to announce this powerful multidisciplinary and interdepartmental collaboration effort with the Focused Ultrasound Foundation and the commonwealth of Virginia to expand treatment options for our cancer patients in this advancing field,” UVA Health CEO Dr. K. Craig Kent said in a statement. “Our combined initial investment of $8 million will purchase state-of-the-art focused ultrasound devices, create new jobs to hire faculty and staff and fund laboratory research studies and clinical trials.”
UVA Health expects to initially hire eight people for the center.
The center is dedicated to advancing a focused ultrasound and cancer immunotherapy treatment approach to cancer care. Immunotherapy has proven effective to only 20% to 40% of cancer patients, according to a news release, and the center will focus on combining it with focused ultrasound.
In focused ultrasound, providers focus ultrasound waves on targeted tissue, sometimes using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The sound waves heat up targeted areas of tissue to destroy or change them without affecting surrounding tissue.
Focused Ultrasound Foundation founder and Chairman Dr. Neal Kassell said that focused ultrasound “can stimulate the body’s immune response to convert immunologically ‘cold’ tumors — such as most breast cancers — into ‘hot’ tumors, making more patients responders. It can also enhance the delivery of immunotherapeutics to tumors, and it may also augment the effectiveness of immunotherapeutics, enabling more robust and prolonged response to drugs and decreasing the doses needed.”
The center’s goals are to understand how to best use focused ultrasound against tumors, develop new focused ultrasound technologies and improve quality of life and survival for patients with cancers while reducing costs.
Dr. Craig Slingluff, Dr. David Brenin and Richard Price will co-direct the center.
Slingluff is the Joseph Helms Farrow Professor of Surgery and the UVA Cancer Center’s Human Immune Therapy Center director.
Brenin is the M.C. Wilhelm Professor in diseases of the breast and division chief of Breast and Melanoma Surgery at UVA Health.
Price is the Lawrence R. Quarles Professor of Biomedical Engineering at U.Va.
Jessica Foley, chief scientific officer and managing director of the foundation’s cancer immunotherapy program, will be the Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s point person for the center.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved focused ultrasound for treating essential tremor (a movement disorder) and Parkinson’s disease. Three clinical trials are underway. Two are using focused ultrasound with immunotherapy drugs to treat metastatic breast cancer or solid tumors, and one is using focused ultrasound with chemotherapy in patients with early-stage breast cancers.