$3.5M granted to develop robotic system to treat brain tumors

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a five-year, $3.5 million grant to help researchers develop a robotic system that “destroys” metastatic brain tumors with high-intensity therapeutic ultrasound and real-time imaging.

Once developed, the system will operate within an MRI scanner and deliver a minimally invasive probe into the brain to destroy metastatic brain tumors. Researchers with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Albany Medical College in New York will use the funding during several steps toward the system’s development:

  • Model the behavior of the ultrasound ablation system
  • Implement thermal monitoring to provide real-time feedback on dose delivery
  • Optimize and verify the system’s effectiveness
  • Certify the system’s readiness for human clinical trials

Treatment options are mostly limited for people with brain metastasis, with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery being the most common treatment methods, which aren’t always successful. Machine-learning-based solutions for brain tumor imaging for diagnostics and treatments also come with significant challenges.

“Thermal ablation has shown potential as an effective treatment, but the available devices for using this therapy have severe limitations and can’t treat all shapes, sizes and locations of tumors. Our hope is that this integrated robotic system will one day be able to provide all brain tumor patients with a safer, more accurate treatment,” Julie G. Pilitsis, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics and professor of neurosurgery at Albany Medical College, said in a statement.

Pilitsis will lead the project alongside Gregory S. Fischer, PhD, associate professor of mechanical engineering and robotics engineering at WPI and director of the Automation and Interventional Medicine Laboratory.

The research team will also work with Illinois-based company Acoustic MedSystems and the New York-based GE Global Research Center. The grant was awarded through the National Cancer Institutes’ (NCI) Academic-Industrial Partnership program.