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Aerang Kim

Promising new pediatric oncologic applications for focused ultrasound

Aerang Kim

“MR-HIFU has a potential role in local treatment of tumors, both benign and malignant,” says AeRang Kim, M.D., Ph.D. “What I’m most excited about is that MR-HIFU has the flexibility to be combined with other treatments such as heat sensitive targeted therapy and immune therapy.”

Earlier this month, AeRang Kim, M.D., Ph.D., oncologist at Children’s National Hospital, spoke at the Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s 7th International Symposium on Focused Ultrasound about the latest developments in focused ultrasound applications for pediatric oncology.

Dr. Kim and a team of researchers at Children’s National belong to the IGNITE (image guided non-invasive therapeutic energy) team, a multidisciplinary group working to develop and transform focused ultrasound applications that will minimize treatment side effects and increase efficacy in paediatric cancer care.

In 2015, the IGNITE team conducted its first trial with a study of MR-guided high-intensity focused ultrasound (MR-HIFU) for treating painful osteoid osteomas (a benign bone tumor) in children. This was followed by a trial of MR-HIFU ablation for pediatric solid tumors.

“MR-HIFU has a potential role in local treatment of tumors, both benign and malignant,” Dr. Kim said. “What I’m most excited about is that MR-HIFU has the flexibility to be combined with other treatments such as heat sensitive targeted therapy and immune therapy. I believe this combination approach will have the highest impact in terms of safety and efficacy in pediatric cancer care.”

Focused ultrasound is an emergent, non-invasive therapeutic technology that uses ultrasonic energy to target tissue deep in the body without incisions or radiation, thus resulting in minimal discomfort and few complications. This also allows for rapid patient recovery. The applications are wide-ranging: from thermal ablation of tumors and other lesions to blood-brain barrier opening, to increasing tumor vasculature for improved drug delivery, to augmenting immune response, among many others.

The team is now working on combinations of focused ultrasound with other therapies, such as chemotherapy. On the third clinical trial open for accrual at Children’s National, they combine MR-HIFU with lysothermosensitive liposomal doxorubicin, a heat-activated form of the cancer drug doxorubicin, to treat pediatric solid tumors. Although results are still preliminary, the hope is that the technology will mitigate some of the acute and late effects of current multimodal therapy in children. “We want to provide more efficacy and precision with these therapies,” said Dr. Kim.

In reflecting on the potential of this new approach, Dr. Kim believes the findings can help change the way experts think about cancer treatment.  The team is studying pre-clinical models of pediatric cancer to evaluate the different modalities of MR-HIFU with immune checkpoint inhibitors. Understanding that there are limitations of MR-HIFU ablation alone, Dr. Kim believes the future for most paediatric cancer applications will be combining approaches using the various bioeffects of focused ultrasound.

“We hope that if promising effects in multiple models utilizing this combination, we can translate these findings into the clinical setting,” she said, noting that the clinical trials led by her team are among the first in the U.S. of HIFU for children. “Children’s National is one of the first pediatrics centers to lead a HIFU program and the Focus Ultrasound Foundation’s first Center of Excellence focused exclusively in pediatrics.  We hope to continue to expand our findings and improve pediatric cancer care that’s more precise, less toxic, less invasive and pain free.”

Karun Sharma

Children’s National designated Center of Excellence by Focused Ultrasound Foundation

Karun Sharma

“This designation provides a high level of recognition and legitimacy to the work our Children’s National team has done with MR-HIFU over many years,” says Karun Sharma, M.D., PhD, director of Interventional Radiology and associate director of clinical translation at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation.

More precise, less invasive and less painful surgery with lower risk of complications and no radiation exposure – these are some of the benefits of treating pediatric tumors with Magnetic Resonance Guided High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (MR-HIFU). And now the Focused Ultrasound Foundation has designated Children’s National Hospital as the first global pediatric Center of Excellence (COE) for using this technology to help patients with specific types of childhood tumors.

“This designation provides a high level of recognition and legitimacy to the work our Children’s National team has done with MR-HIFU over many years,” says Karun Sharma, M.D., PhD, director of Interventional Radiology and associate director of clinical translation at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation (SZI) at Children’s National. “This will allow our focused ultrasound program to expand to other areas of interest and become more cohesive while continuing to uncover additional clinical indications for pediatric patients.”

At Children’s National, radiologists use MR-HIFU to focus an ultrasound beam into lesions, usually tumors of the bone and soft tissues, to heat and destroy the tissue in that region. There are no incisions at all. In 2015, Children’s National doctors became the first in the U.S. to use MR-HIFU to treat pediatric osteoid osteoma, a painful, but benign, bone tumor that commonly occurs in children and young adults. The trial, led by Dr. Sharma, demonstrated early success in establishing the safety and feasibility of noninvasive MR-HIFU in children as an alternative to the current, more invasive approaches to treat these tumors. The team also conducted another clinical trial, led by AeRang Kim, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric oncologist, to treat relapsed soft tissue tumors such as sarcomas.

Since then, the Children’s National team has built an active clinical trials program and become a leader in translation of focused ultrasound for the treatment of pediatric solid tumors. The center is currently investigating the treatment of malignant solid tumors with focused ultrasound alone and combined with chemotherapy.

“Focused ultrasound offers a number of important benefits over traditional therapies, which are especially paramount for the pediatric population,” said Focused Ultrasound Foundation Chairman Neal F. Kassell, M.D. “The team at Children’s National has an exemplary track record in using this technology to pioneer new treatment options for their patients, and we look forward to collaborating and supporting their future research.”

As a designated COE, Children’s National has the necessary infrastructure to support the ongoing use of this technology, especially for carrying out future pediatric clinical trials. This infrastructure includes an ethics committee familiar with focused ultrasound, a robust clinical trials research support team, a data review committee for ongoing safety monitoring and annual safety reviews, and a scientific review committee for protocol evaluation.

The program also features a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and investigators from SZI, radiology, oncology, surgery and orthopedics. With the new designation and continued expansion, we will expand MR-HIFU to other areas such as neuro-oncology, neurosurgery, and urology. Ongoing and future work will investigate a rational combination of MR-HIFU with local tumor drug delivery, immunotherapy and cellular therapy.

“This recognition sets us apart as a premier pediatric institution, and will allow us to pave the way to make pediatric surgery more precise and less invasive,” says Dr. Sharma.