Israeli-US project uses ultrasound waves to treat Alzheimer's, cancer

Doctors from the Sheba Medical Center and West Virginia University are using special made-in-Israel tech to deliver therapy directly to the brain in a non-invasive way.

A radiologist examines breast X-rays after a cancer prevention medical check-up at the Ambroise Pare hospital in Marseille (photo credit: JEAN-PAUL PELISSIER / REUTERS)
A radiologist examines breast X-rays after a cancer prevention medical check-up at the Ambroise Pare hospital in Marseille
(photo credit: JEAN-PAUL PELISSIER / REUTERS)

An Israeli-American project is aiming to provide treatment for Alzheimer's disease with cutting-edge, made-in-Israel ultrasound technology.

Alzheimer's is a neurodegenerative disease that affects over 30 million people worldwide, with six-to-seven million new cases every year. It is the cause of 60%-80% of dementia cases.

However, no effective treatment has so far been found.

The cooperation between Dr. Zion Zibly, director of neurosurgery at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and Dr. Ali Rezai, head of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at West Virginia University, intends to fight the disease using non-invasive ultrasound waves to deliver therapy directly to the brain without endangering it or requiring any surgery.

“This technology allows us to temporarily and safely open the blood-brain barrier, which is a barrier in the blood vessels that usually prevents antibodies or large molecules of medications from getting to the brain,” Rezai said.

“For the past five years, we have been working together using ultrasound waves to treat tremor, whether produced by Parkinson or by other causes,” he said. “The patient comes to the clinic, wears a helmet that delivers the waves to their brain and then goes home in two hours.”

 Patients with Alzheimer's and dementia are sit inside the Alzheimer foundation in Mexico City (credit: EDGARD GARRIDO/ REUTERS) Patients with Alzheimer's and dementia are sit inside the Alzheimer foundation in Mexico City (credit: EDGARD GARRIDO/ REUTERS)

The procedure has already been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Now the duo is focusing on using the same system to target other brain diseases.

“In our studies and initial clinical trials, we have been able to show a reduction in the brain plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer, as well as a reduction in the progression of the disease,” Rezai noted. “We are very encouraged.”

Some 18 patients with mild Alzheimer's took part in the clinical trial. The first patients started to be treated around three years ago. The clinical trial is now in the process of being expanded and the hope is to receive full approval within a few years.

In Israel, Sheba has been offering the procedure for tremors for several years.

“We are the main center providing this treatment in the Middle East and Europe and we have many patients coming from abroad,” Zibly said.

Sheba has also just started using ultrasound waves to treat epilepsy.

The US-Israeli team is also looking into using ultrasound waves to treat brain tumors.

“We are working together to treat people with brain tumors and specifically glioblastoma,” Rezai said.

Glioblastomas are among the most aggressive forms of cancer and usually cause the death of the patients within 18 months.

“With this technology, we are able to open the blood-brain barrier and deliver the chemotherapy to the brain at a much higher [level of] effectiveness,” Rezai noted.