Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, visited the Medical School’s Focused Ultrasound Center to see a demonstration of the cutting-edge focused ultrasound technology Wednesday morning. While there, he praised the benefits of government investment in research and development, promoting its place in both state and federal budgets.
“[Focused ultrasound surgery is] an example of world class research going on at the University of Virginia with the potential to transform a whole host of treatments,” Warner said. “In tight budget times, cutting research saves in the short run, but in the long run it is costing society. [It is] costing the well-being of the population.”
Warner said it is often the case that research and innovation funding is first to be cut by lawmakers in Washington and Richmond when trying to balance the budget.
Warner, who is running for re-election this November, has spent the week touring the state of Virginia. He has already made stops in Portsmouth and Richmond to speak to students about college affordability and legislation he introduced in the Senate to help students refinance loans at a lower rate.
On Monday, the senator held a roundtable discussion at Tidewater Community College, and met recent college graduates at The Urban Farmhouse coffee shop in Richmond Tuesday. Later Wednesday afternoon, he visited an EMT class and an anatomy class at Piedmont Community College.
Warner’s tour of the Focused Ultrasound Center included a demonstration of the ultrasound treatment technology and a discussion with the Center’s directors. The treatment is a non-invasive and innovative surgical approach which concentrates ultrasound waves toward a single spot in the body, removing “bad tissue” while leaving surrounding healthy tissue unharmed.
“This is cutting edge technology trying to eliminating cutting treatments,” said Alan Matsumoto, chair of the Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging.
With the potential for far-reaching applications, the Center is using the technology to develop therapeutic treatments for conditions such as essential tremor — a type of Parkinson’s disease — Parkinson’s disease proper, metastatic brain tumors and uterine fibrosis — all without surgery.
“This technology is on the verge of some killer applications,” said Dr. Jason Sheehan, the research director of the Center and a professor in the departments of Neurological Surgery, Radiation Oncology and Neuroscience.
At present, the FDA has approved ultrasound technology to treat uterine fibroids and pain from bone metastases. Clinical trials of FUS to treat essential tremors, metastatic brain tumors and Parkinson’s disease are underway. FUS has been approved to treat breast cancer, Parkinson’s and essential tremor commercially outside the United States.
For Warner, the technology represents an example of the benefits of state and federally funded research.
“Seeing [the demonstration] brings home the reality of the technology — folks in central Virginia will see it, and it makes the case that this is the type of research we want to continue to see [at U.Va.],” he said. “From a Virginia standpoint, it brings jobs, economic value and has a chance to change how we think about healthcare.”
Matsumoto reiterated the research’s value for the state as a whole.
“[The Center] provides an opportunity for a nexus of collaboration within our institution with common research,” he said. “It has brought industry together [with] national and international collaboration.”
Through the Center’s pioneering role in testing treatments, the state will benefit from some of the leading medical technology, Matsumoto said. He said the Center will be partnering with a French company to treat thyroid and breast tissue, proving that the Center and the University will become a sought-after partner as the technology is increasingly used.
To date, there are 395 commercial sites using focused ultrasound technology for treatment, the majority of which are in Europe.