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Virginia Tech tests non-invasive alternative to surgery in dogs

FILE -- In this Nov. 2, 2005 file photo, a litter of seven golden retriever puppies trots across the lawn after their mother.
Carolyn Kaster
FILE -- In this Nov. 2, 2005 file photo, a litter of seven golden retriever puppies trots across the lawn after their mother.

Ten years ago, there were just three medical conditions where focused ultrasound showed promise. Now, neurosurgeon Neal Kassell – founder of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation in Charlottesville – reports an astonishing number of studies showing other possible uses.

“Today there are more than 170," he says. "The ones that excite us the most are related to cancer and cancer immunotherapy and the neurodegenerative diseases – Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and ALS and so on.”

Evidence comes from studies, and treatment has been approved by the FDA for only a handful of those conditions, but Kassell says no government agency is involved when it comes to veterinary procedures, and focused ultrasound is now being applied to canine tumors.

"The way it works is analogous to using a magnifying glass to focus beams of light on a point and burn a hole in a leaf," Kassell explains. "With focused ultrasound, an acoustic lens is used to focus multiple beams of ultrasound energy on multiple targets deep in the body with a high degree of precision and accuracy, sparing the adjacent normal tissue."

Dr. Joanne Tuohy at Virginia Tech’s Veterinary School says it’s early, but the approach has shown promise in dogs with a bone cancer called osteosarcoma.

“It is very, very common – the most common primary bone tumor in dogs,” she says.

In two studies of more than 25 dogs, vets at Tech found focused ultrasound removed tumor tissue and might have sparked the animal’s immune system.

“The study is still on-going, but yes, so far we have seen some changes that are very encouraging as far as ablation of the tumor cells and also changes in immune cells,” Tuohy reports.

With further study and fine-tuning, she says, this painless, bloodless treatment could eliminate tumors and spark the body’s own immune system to fight spread of the disease.

For more information, call Virginia Tech’s Animal Cancer Research Center at 540-526-2300

Updated: August 23, 2022 at 11:18 AM EDT
Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.
Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief