May 12, 2022 — UVA Health and The Charlottesville-based Focused Ultrasound Foundation today announced the launch of the Focused Ultrasound Cancer Immunotherapy Center, the world’s first center dedicated specifically to advancing a targeted approach to ultrasound and immunotherapy treatment of cancer that could revolutionize cancer care in the 21st century.
Immunotherapy, which harnesses the immune system to fight cancer, is the most significant breakthrough in cancer treatment in decades. So far, however, it has proven effective for only 20% to 40% of patients. But the combination of immunotherapy with focused ultrasound – a game-changing sound wave technology – has been shown to overcome the existing limitations of immunotherapy and can open up new fronts in the war against many forms. different types of cancer, from breast cancer to brain tumours.
The center will cement the University of Virginia’s place as a preeminent site for translational research, education, and patient care using the cutting-edge combination of focused ultrasound technology and cancer immunotherapy.
“We are thrilled to announce this powerful multidisciplinary, cross-departmental collaborative effort with the Focused Ultrasound Foundation and the Commonwealth of Virginia to expand treatment options for our cancer patients in this evolving field,” said K. Craig. Kent, MD, CEO of UVA Health and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs at UVA. “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.”
“Focused ultrasound is shown to improve the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy throughout the cancer immunity cycle in a variety of ways,” said Neal F. Kassell, MD, founder and president of the Foundation, which works in partnership with the Cancer Research Institute and the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy to fund targeted research in ultrasound immunotherapy for cancer worldwide. “It can stimulate the body’s immune response to convert immunologically ‘cold’ tumors – like most breast cancers – into ‘warm’ tumors, making more patients responders. It can also improve the delivery of immunotherapies to tumors, and it can also increase the efficacy of immunotherapies, allowing a more robust and prolonged response to drugs and decreasing the doses needed.
The center is designed to capitalize on the strengths of UVA – including cancer immunotherapy, focused ultrasound and medical imaging – and to leverage the expertise of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation to better understand the ability of ultrasound focused on improving a patient’s immune response to their cancer. The objectives of the center include:
- Understand how to optimize the antitumor effect of focused ultrasound;
- Develop new focused ultrasound technologies; and
- Improve the quality of life and survival of patients with various cancers while improving access to advanced care and reducing costs.
The center will be led by co-directors Craig Slingluff, MD, Joseph Helms Farrow Professor of Surgery and Director of the Center for Human Immune Therapy at UVA Cancer Center; David R. Brenin, MD, MC Wilhelm Professor of Breast Diseases and Division Chief of Breast and Melanoma Surgery at UVA Health; and Richard Price, PhD, Lawrence R. Quarles Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UVA. Additional information about the center is available at https://med.virginia.edu/uva-focused-ultrasound-cancer-immunotherapy-center/.
UVA Health was an early pioneer in the field of focused ultrasound. Research by Jeff Elias, MD, and his colleagues at UVA has already paved the way for Federal Food and Drug Administration approval of technology to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, a common movement disorder. (The technology is approved for seven indications in the United States and more than 30 worldwide.) UVA’s expertise with the technology has led to a robust clinical and preclinical research program that examines the use of focused ultrasound to treat many conditions, including cancer. Three groundbreaking cancer trials are already underway: two pairs of focused ultrasound with an immunotherapy drug in patients with metastatic breast cancer or solid tumors, while the third uses focused ultrasound plus chemotherapy to activate the immune response in patients with early stage breast cancer.
The Foundation’s contact for the center is Jessica Foley, PhD, Scientific Director and Executive Director of the Foundation’s Cancer Immunotherapy Program.
For more information: www.fusfoundation.org