News Release

Focused Ultrasound Foundation designates Virginia Tech as a Center of Excellence

Designation recognizes university's leading role in advancing non-invasive medical treatment

Business Announcement

Virginia Tech

Ultrasound in Virginia


Researchers in the lab of Wynn Legon, the faculty director of the transcranial MR-guided focused ultrasound facilities at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, demonstrate the use of low-intensity focused ultrasound with a single element transducer.  

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Credit: Clayton Metz/Virginia Tech

The Focused Ultrasound Foundation has designated Virginia Tech as a Focused Ultrasound (FUS) Center of Excellence, making it the sixth such center in the United States and one of only 12 in the world.

“Virginia Tech possesses significant strengths in the FUS field, and it is an honor to recognize them as a Center of Excellence,” said Neal F. Kassell, founder and chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. “With distinguished experts across the colleges of engineering, science, veterinary medicine, and medicine, the university’s premier biomedical research institute, and a notable history of significant publications in leading journals, Virginia Tech is driving the future of FUS into exciting new territory.”

Focused ultrasound uses ultrasound energy guided by real-time imaging to treat tissue deep in the body without incisions or radiation. Established in 2009, the Foundation’s Centers of Excellence Program recognizes luminary sites for their merit in translational and clinical research in focused ultrasound, training, and patient care. The centers of excellence serve as hubs for collaboration, bringing together academia, industry, and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation to champion therapeutic ultrasound technology in innovative ways.

“This selection by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation will have an important impact on the university’s growing health sciences research enterprise,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech vice president for Health Sciences and Technology and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. “The center of excellence designation will further enable researchers across Virginia Tech to focus on applications of focused ultrasound in the treatment of brain and behavioral disorders such as addiction and substance abuse, chronic pain, and neurodegenerative diseases, and for human and animal cancer research.”

Virginia Tech’s focused ultrasound program spans departments, disciplines, and geography, including Roanoke, Blacksburg, and Washington, D.C., all working to impact human and animal lives in areas of critical unmet need, such as neurological disorders and hard-to-treat cancers.  

“We are particularly excited to see this recognition, which builds on some of the early pioneering research on focused ultrasound modulation of human brain activity that was carried out at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute by faculty members Wynn Legon and William Tyler a decade ago,” Friedlander said. Legon is the faculty director of the transcranial MR-guided focused ultrasound facilities at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

Friedlander will serve as chairman of the new FUF Center of Excellence program, which will be co-directed by Jennifer Munson of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Joanne Tuohy of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and  Eli Vlaisavljevich of the College of Engineering. 

The Focused Ultrasound Foundation said Virginia Tech is unique in its ability to perform research across the translational spectrum from pet patients to humans through its One Health approach to research, which recognizes the dynamic interdependence of human, animal, and environmental health, and the collection of veterinary data to advance human medicine. 

This emphasis on understanding and treating diseases that affect both veterinary and human patients puts Virginia Tech in an exceptional position to rapidly discover and implement new FUS treatments that could save lives, officials said.

“Tumors in dogs and cats are very similar to tumors that occur in people,” said Tuohy, assistant professor of surgical oncology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Cancer Care and Research Center. “We are very much like our pets in so many ways. We share our home environments, and we have the same exposures that can potentially be associated with cancer development, which is very different than a controlled environment in a laboratory. As we provide health care, the companion animals are a clinically relevant model to inform us as we develop focused ultrasound devices. By helping our pets, we can also help people at the same time.”

Vlaisavljevich, who designs and develops focused ultrasound technology at his Therapeutic Ultrasound and Noninvasive Therapies Laboratory, is eager to grow the partnership with the FUS Foundation. 

“The Focused Ultrasound Foundation funded my first research grant as a faculty member, helped us to establish our growing FUS veterinary program, and has been a key partner in numerous other important initiatives for our histotripsy research program during my first six years at Virginia Tech,” Vlaisavljevich said. “By working together in a more coordinated fashion, we will have even more success in establishing a world-leading FUS program with essential core facilities that enable impact on a global scale through our mission of advancing FUS research, development, and clinical adoption.”

With the current and future support of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, funding agencies, and donors, Friedlander said the Center of Excellence will draw on the expertise of over 35 principal investigators devoted to focused ultrasound research. They will collaborate with industrial partners, other Centers of Excellence, and Children’s National Hospital’s Brain Tumor Institute and Center for Cancer and Immunology Research to expand novel ultrasound therapies for the benefit of patients.

Children’s National Hospital is also a Focused Ultrasound Foundation Center of Excellence, and the only one devoted to pediatric applications.

“Individually, we can’t advance quickly enough for patients facing cancer or ailments where focused ultrasound can really make a difference,” said Munson, who is also a faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. “But together, we are transforming our approach to treating these tumors and fast-tracking their delivery to patients in need.”

Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation was created to improve the lives of people worldwide by accelerating the development of focused ultrasound, a rapidly evolving, noninvasive technology.

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