Using Transcranial Focused Ultrasound to Treat Spinal Cord Injuries at Johns Hopkins University

The Brainbox team was very excited to recently support the delivery and installation of a new suite of transcranial focused ultrasound stimulation (TUS) equipment to Dr Amir Manbachi and Dr Nicholas Theodore at Johns Hopkins University. With the grand opening of their brand new HEPIUS Lab this week, we had the chance to catch up with Amir and Nicholas to find out more about the research that they will be carrying out with the NeuroFUS system.

Specialising in research on the spinal cord, the newly-opened HEPIUS (Holistic Electrical, ultrasound and Physiological Interventions Unburdening those with Spinal cord injury) lab at Johns Hopkins university brings together some of the world’s leading experts in neurosurgery, biomedical engineering, neuroscience, radiology, and a wide range of physicians to help diagnose and treat spinal cord injuries using cutting-edge technologies.

In explaining why the laboratory has chosen to adopt TUS technologies into their research, Amir tells us, ‘Although at early stages, Ultrasonic Neuromodulation is being explored in various literature and has gained momentum as a field. However, when it comes to spinal cord injury, we are not aware of any groups aiming to understand how focused ultrasound neuromodulation can help in the spinal cord region. As a result, we are focusing our studies to gain an understanding of spinal cord neurotrauma.’

The research being carried out at the HEPIUS lab by Amir Manbachi, PhD and Dr Nicholas Theodore, M.D. is extremely ambitious, seeking eventually to develop implantable and wearable ultrasound technologies to treat spinal cord injury. The ambitious research projects have also gained national attention and recognition, attracting $ 13.5 million in funding from the Pentagon to help carry out research that they believe will ‘revolutionise care for the 17,000 Americans who suffer spinal cord injuries every year’.

The team's earlier studies into the neuromodulatory effects of TUS had been carried out on the brain using an ultrasound transducer and cone that had been built in-house, he tells us, ‘[but] we realised the need for a device with enhanced capabilities and more flexibility; and after a conversation with our industry collaborator, Sonic Concepts, we started to gain an interest [in working with] Brainbox and NeuroFUS’.

Much like many labs around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the progress of research at the HEPIUS lab, pushing back its construction and delaying the start of new projects. ‘Though at this point in time, the space is finally built and we are able to move in to focus on our science.’

With the new lab built and the NeuroFUS system successfully installed, we asked Dr Amir Manbachi what the next steps would be on entering their new space for the first time.

‘We have recruited a PhD student in the Electrical Engineering department to focus on lab bench, in vitro verification and calibration of the probes using hydrophones and thermochromic liquid crystals in water tanks. Following lab bench studies, we intend to move into rodents and porcine animal models of spinal cord injury.’

Brainbox is very excited to learn more about the research that is being carried out at the HEPIUS Innovation lab and looks forward to seeing the first publications released as the team at Johns Hopkins University return to work in 2021.

Selected References

  1. Brian Y Hwang, MD, 18D, David Mampre, BS, MD, A Karim Ahmed, MD, Ian Suk, BSc, BMC, William S Anderson, PhD, MD, Amir Manbachi, PhD, Nicholas Theodore, MD, Ultrasound in Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury: A Wide-Open Field, Neurosurgery, Volume 89, Issue 3, September 2021, Pages 372–382.
  2. Handbook for Clinical UltrasoundAmir Manbachi
  3. Zeng, Y, Acord, M, Kaovasia, TP, Miao, P, Sun, J, Tong, S, Curry, E, Aghabaglou, F, Theodore, N, Thakor, N, & Manbachi, A. "A Miniature Laser Speckle Contrast Imager for Monitoring the Neuromodulatory Effect of Transcranial Ultrasound Stimulation." Proceedings of the 2021 Design of Medical Devices Conference. 2021 Design of Medical Devices Conference. Minneapolis, MN, USA. April 12–15, 2021. V001T09A001. ASME.