High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound Technology

Drs. Jeff Elias and Jeff Chang-Chia Liu, PhD are leading the development of high-intensity focused ultrasound technology, which has exciting potential for drug delivery and to treat tumors, stroke, movement disorders, and chronic pain non-invasively.  Drs. Elias and Liu are also researching other neuromodulation techniques in their Human Brain Laboratory.  Dr. Elias’s clinical trial to treat patients with Essential Tremor is believed to have been the first intracranial therapeutic application of the technology in the world, and its favorable results have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine and led to FDA approval for clinical use.  Another trial led to FDA approval for clinical use in tremor-dominant Parkinson’s.  Dr. Elias is currently enrolling patients in a NIH-funded trial for focused ultrasound to treat head & neck cancer pain, as well as trials for Parkinson’s and epilepsy.  Dr. Jason Sheehan is enrolling patients in a trial to use focused ultrasound to treat brain tumors, and trials for multiple other conditions are being considered.

Dr. Justin Smith leads our field in demonstrating positive outcomes in quality of life after spine surgery.  The neuro-oncology, neurovascular and spine areas are involved in most all major national clinical trials.  Clinical trials are critical to finding better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat neurological disorders.  They help us to move basic scientific research from the laboratory into actual treatments that help patients.  Patients coming to UVA can have a better chance of successful treatment because UVA runs and participates in many clinical trials.

Our Laboratory of Stroke and Vascular Disease, led by Dr. Petr Tvrdik, PhD, researches neurovascular conditions such as stroke, aneurysm and vascular malformations in animals and humans, including identification of RNA biomarkers and understanding neural stem cells and regeneration.  The lab has NIH funding to study Microglial Calcium Signaling during Ischemic Stroke, and funding directed by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation for studies around Cerebral Cavernous Malformations and enhancing neurogenesis in the aging hippocampus.

Our department chairman Mark Shaffrey is the hands-on medical director of our trials office that also has an administrative director, 5 clinical research coordinators, and several more dedicated support staff.  We have recently been conducting or collaborating on new drug and device trials with NIH, the Christopher Reeve Foundation, GE Healthcare, Genentech, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Medtronic, Amgen, and with many smaller companies on the cusp of medical breakthroughs.

Drs. Sheehan and Zhiyuan Xu’s laboratory researches methods to improve the safety and feasibility of non-invasive transcranial focused ultrasound technology in treating intracranial tumors. Also, we explores the feasibility of using sonosensitizers stimulated with focused ultrasound which is termed sonodynamic therapy to treat glioblastomas and other brain tumors.

We are also active in other areas of research into neurological conditions.  You can learn more about all clinical trials being performed by all specialties across UVA at the UVA clinical trials search page.

Donate to Our Research

We’ve had many grateful patients and philanthropists help support our Neurosurgery and Neuroscience research at UVA. Without them, we would not have accomplished so much.

As an example, a patient came to UVa’s top ranked Neuroendocrine team for surgery to remove a pituitary tumor. He was so impressed with the care he received that he decided to help advance UVa’s research into finding better treatments for the disease. His gifts of more than $200,000 have helped our neurosurgeons and endocrinologists devise a way to genetically map a tumor’s DNA, giving vital clues to why pituitary tumors form, and to help discover and clone a receptor that may be a target for new therapies to stop tumor growth.

“The pace of our research, and the milestones we’ve reached, would not be possible without the help of such donors,” says leading endocrinologist Michael Thorner. “Private support seeds promising research and allows investigators to explore novel ideas. With help from donors, we are developing a strategy for defeating pituitary tumors. We are working toward a cure.”



Click Here to Call

If you’d like to discuss with any of our faculty members, find their contact info at Neurosurgery Faculty Contact Page

You might also contact Jas Heim, the Neurosciences specialist within UVA Health System’s Development Office


Click Here to Call