PING: Brain surgery without a knife

Published: August 4, 2022 1:40 PM EDT
Meningococcal disease
An MRI scan of the brain of someone with meningococcal disease. Credit: WINK News

For many people living with epilepsy or movement disorders, like Parkinson’s and Tourette’s syndrome, brain surgery becomes the only treatment option.

Now, scientists are working on a new, non-invasive way to remove the faulty brain cells triggering those conditions.

Forty-two million Americans struggle with movement disorders. Medications may work for some but not for everyone. Now, scientists at the University of Virginia and Stanford have developed a procedure that can non-invasively remove faulty brain cells. It’s called PING.

Neuroscientist at UVA Health, Kevin Lee, PhD, says, “We hope PING will be the next step in intervention for those individuals that don’t respond to drugs.”

PING uses focused ultrasound waves combined with tiny microbubbles.

“What’s different about PING is we’re going in with a much lighter, a lower intensity treatment,” Professor Lee explains.

The ultrasound and microbubbles briefly open the protective barrier that normally surrounds the brain. Doctors administer an IV drug that travels to the faulty brain neurons and kills them, leaving healthy cells intact.

Professor Lee adds, “You’d like to knock out the area that’s causing the problems, the real culprit cells, but spare the things passing through that are still functional. PING will do that.”

Researchers say the PING approach could be used on irregularly shaped targets in the brain, in areas that are difficult to reach by scalpel or laser. The researchers have tested the approach on animals and found when using PING to treat temporal lobe epilepsy, seizures were reduced or eliminated.