The overarching goal of our laboratory is to investigate the physical mechanisms with which ultrasound interacts with tissue in order to develop non-invasive therapies for specific clinical applications. This work is separated into four primary research areas including Non-invasive Tissue Ablation, Biofilm Ablation, Veterinary Applications, and Ultrasonic Neuromodulation. We have also recently started a separate research track developing Biomedical Technologies for Conservation Applications. Summaries of these research areas can be found in the sections below.
A primary focus of our research laboratory is the development of Focused Ultrasound (FUS) as an image-guided and non-invasive ablation method for the treatment of cancer. More specifically, our lab is developing histotripsy for the treatment of multiple cancer types including liver, kidney, pancreatic, and brain cancer. Histotripsy is a non-thermal and completely non-invasive ultrasonic ablation method that destroys targeted tumors through the precise control of acoustic cavitation. The histotripsy “bubble cloud” can be visualized with ultrasound imaging, allowing for precise targeting and real-time monitoring. Histotripsy is capable of generating precise lesions with sharp boundaries between treated and untreated tissue, with no recognizable cellular structures remaining inside the lesion. The goal of our lab is to answer the key preclinical questions necessary to demonstrate the long-term oncological and immunological response of different cancer types to histotripsy in order to advance this technology into a broader patient population and curative endpoints. In addition, our lab is also developing novel therapy methods that combine histotripsy with thermal FUS ablation for the treatment of stiff tissues (cholangiocarcinoma, uterine fibroids).
We are developing Nanoparticle-mediated Histotripsy (NMH) for the selective ablation of breast and brain cancer. NMH utilizes a significant decrease in the cavitation threshold of acoustically active nanoparticles in order to selectively generate cavitation in regions containing nanoparticles. Current work in our laboratory is developing NMH for the selective ablation of multi-focal tumors and/or micro-metastases, with an initial focus on metastatic breast and brain cancer. Finally, we are also investigating nanoparticle-guided strategies for targeted drug delivery and immune system modulation using the NMH ablation platform.
In addition to developing therapeutic ultrasound technologies for biomedical applications, our group is also developing ultrasonic and other biomedical technologies for conservation and global health applications. Current conservation projects in our laboratory include the development of ultrasonic methods for enhancing DNA extraction, improving infectious disease screening, and preventing the illegal trafficking of protected plants and animals. As part of these efforts, our lab is specifically focused on the development of new technologies to improve enforcement capabilities of illicit timber and wildlife trafficking and supply chain traceability by developing tools for species specific identification. Our group is also utilizing novel biomedical engineering methods for protecting endangered species by reducing poaching and improving diagnostic and therapeutic tools for veterinary medicine.
Our lab has several ongoing projects to develop and to investigate the use of focused ultrasound (FUS) histotripsy for the non-invasive ablation of naturally-occurring cancerous tumors in veterinary patients (i.e., dogs and cats). In collaboration with partners at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, our lab is investigating the feasibility of using histotripsy to ablate cancerous tissues in dogs, with a particular interest in osteosarcoma, soft-tissue sarcoma, and brain tumors. Additionally, our lab is pioneering a project in cats comparing two focused ultrasound treatment modalities (histotripsy and thermal HIFU) for treating soft tissue sarcomas. Through excised tissue studies and in vivo experiments, the goal of this work is to develop optimized histotripsy treatment strategies and devices for veterinary-specific applications. In addition to addressing companion animal quality-of-life concerns and high mortality associated with these tumor types, this work will help to answer outstanding preclinical questions necessary for guidance of FUS ablation and palliative uses of histotripsy in a human clinical population.
Biofilm formation by pathogenic bacteria are a challenge in healthcare as biofilms make bacteria more resistant to antibiotics and increase the persistence of bacteria on indwelling medical devices. In this project, we are exploring innovative approaches for biofilm ablation utilizing histotripsy. Currently, we are interested in catheter associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) which are among the most common hospital acquired infections and a significant cause of morbidity, mortality, and increased health care costs. Our aim is to develop histotripsy as a noninvasive ablation method to treat and prevent CAUTIs.
We are currently investigating novel therapeutic ultrasound methods for the modulation of neural activity in order to develop new treatment methods for various neurological disorders. In collaboration with several groups on the Virginia Tech campus, our lab is developing experimental platforms for studying ultrasonic neuromodulation at the cellular and systemic levels in order to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms with which ultrasound can activate or inhibit neural activity. The goal of these studies is to develop improved methods for treating brain disorders with low intensity focused ultrasound, with initial projects focused on treating depression and minimizing penumbral tissue damage from ischemic stroke and future interests in the treatment of other disorders.