Team tests power of focused ultrasound, immunotherapy to battle breast cancer

November 8, 2017, University of Virginia

In its latest pioneering effort to harness the power of focused ultrasound to battle disease, the University of Virginia Health System is examining the scalpel-free surgery's potential to enable the body to identify and destroy metastatic breast cancer cells.

Researchers Patrick Dillon, MD, and David Brenin, MD, of the UVA Cancer Center, have launched a clinical trial evaluating the safety and effectiveness of a two-pronged experimental approach to combatting that has spread to other parts of the body. The researchers use focused ultrasound to destroy a portion of the primary tumor, with the goal of prompting an immune response. Study participants receive the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab in the hopes it will prevent the cells from blocking that immune response. This may allow the patient's immune system to recognize and kill the cancer cells.

"The hope," Brenin said, "is to leverage the combination of both treatments to gain a greater than we would have individually."

Targeting Breast Cancer Cells

Previous studies have suggested that focused ultrasound, on its own, initiates an immune reaction inside the body, Dillon explained. The trial is essentially using it to flag up the - which are normally invisible to the immune system - so that the body's can recognize them as a danger.

The trial is believed the first to pair focused ultrasound with immunotherapy, Dillon noted. "We are looking at the safety and feasibility [of the combination], and also looking to see if we receive a response beyond the treated tumor in the breast," he said.

The researchers plan to test the combo in a total of 15 women, ages 18 and older, who have received at least one form of treatment for their metastatic cancer. There are other eligibility requirements as well. Participants will be randomized to receive the drug, known commercially as Keytruda, either before or after the focused . (Keytruda is not approved for the treatment of breast cancer - it's considered experimental for the purposes of the trial.)

The researchers expect it will take a year to 14 months to complete their testing. They will then evaluate their results and publish their findings in a scientific journal. If their initial test is successful, a larger trial would be conducted to further evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the procedure.

The trial is the latest in UVA's efforts to explore the potential of focused ultrasound. UVA's Jeff Elias, MD, pioneered the use of the technology for the treatment of essential tremor, the most common movement disorder, and the Food and Drug Administration has since approved focused ultrasound for that purpose. At the end of October, Elias unveiled the results of a small initial trial examining its potential for managing tremor caused by tremor-dominant Parkinson's disease. That study concluded a larger trial is warranted. Other researchers are evaluating the technology for additional applications as well.

"The most exciting part of our job," Dillon said, "is to be able to participate in research that will impact patient lives and potentially alter their cancer journey in, hopefully, a positive way."

About Focused Ultrasound

The technology focuses sound waves inside the body to create a small but concentrated spot of heat, much like a magnifying glass can focus sunlight. Doctors can use that heat to destroy unwanted tissue in a process called "ablation." Unlike traditional surgery, there is no need to cut into the body.

Explore further: Focused ultrasound shows promise for treating Parkinson's tremor

Related Stories

Focused ultrasound shows promise for treating Parkinson's tremor

October 30, 2017
An initial test to determine if a scalpel-free form of brain surgery can reduce tremor caused by Parkinson's disease has produced encouraging results. Further research is warranted, the researchers conclude in a paper published ...

Focused ultrasound named one of 2016's top clinical research achievements

April 19, 2017
The University of Virginia Health System's pioneering use of focused sound waves to treat essential tremor, the most common movement disorder, has been named one of the top 10 clinical research achievements of 2016.

Focused ultrasound for treating Parkinson's disease to be tested

October 12, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—After a promising clinical trial of focused ultrasound as a potential treatment for essential tremor, the University of Virginia Health System is launching a new study to investigate the scalpel-free technology's ...

FDA approves scalpel-free brain surgery for tremor pioneered at UVA

July 12, 2016
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first focused-ultrasound device to treat essential tremor, the most common movement disorder, in patients who do not respond to medication. The scalpel-free approach has been ...

Molecular fingerprint of breast tumors linked to immune response in bloodstream

September 28, 2017
Using newly developed software, researchers have shown that genes and molecular processes in breast cancer tumor cells are tightly linked to genes and processes in blood cells, including immune system cells. The findings ...

New ultrasound technology could save lives of women with dense breast tissue

September 1, 2017
A new research project at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is recruiting women with dense breast tissue to examine the effectiveness of a novel breast ultrasound device. SoftVue is the world's first 3-D, whole-breast ...

Recommended for you

Fusion hybrids: A newly discovered population of tumor cells

September 24, 2018
In a recent study published in Science Advances, Charles E. Gast and co-workers detail the spontaneous process of cancer cell fusion with white blood cells to produce heterogenous hybrid clones in multiple biological systems, ...

Cancer cells evade immunotherapy by hiding telltale marker, suggesting how to stop relapse

September 24, 2018
Harnessing the immune system to treat cancer shows great promise in some patients, but for many, the response does not last long-term. In an effort to find out why, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientists are using ...

In zebrafish, a way to find new cancer therapies, targeting tumor modulators

September 21, 2018
The lab of Leonard Zon, MD, at Boston Children's Hospital has long been interested in making blood stem cells in quantity for therapeutic purposes. Looking for a way to test for their presence in zebrafish, their go-to research ...

What can salad dressing tell us about cancer? Think oil and vinegar

September 20, 2018
Researchers led by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists have identified another way the process that causes oil to form droplets in water may contribute to solid tumors, such as prostate and breast cancer. The ...

Novel biomarker found in ovarian cancer patients can predict response to therapy

September 20, 2018
Despite months of aggressive treatment involving surgery and chemotherapy, about 85 percent of women with high-grade wide-spread ovarian cancer will have a recurrence of their disease. This leads to further treatment, but ...

Testing fluorescent tracers used to help surgeons determine edges of breast cancer tumors

September 20, 2018
A team of researchers with members from institutions in The Netherlands and China has conducted a test of fluorescent tracers meant to aid surgeons performing tumor removal in breast cancer patients. In their paper published ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.