Ultrasound technology being used in the transcranial ultrasound stimulation lab at the University of Plymouth Brain Research and Imaging Centre (1280x720)
Scientists have been awarded around £1.2million to investigate whether a person’s pain or consciousness levels might influence the impact of transcranial ultrasound stimulation (TUS) on their brain.
Best known for its use in the imaging of unborn babies, researchers are now repurposing ultrasound as a non-invasive and safe technique that can be used to change how the brain functions.
Studies carried out in the University of Plymouth’s Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC) have previously shown that targeted ultrasound treatment can bring about changes within the brain for around two hours, enough time for clinicians to apply a number of other interventions.
This, researchers believe, has the potential to help people with neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, or mental health disorders including addiction and depression.
The new project is expanding on the existing research by exploring whether the effects of targeted ultrasound are altered when a person is experiencing differing levels of pain, consciousness or cognitive load.
With scientists able to focus ultrasound on precise regions of the brain, the research will also assess if multiple areas can be targeted at the same time.
Through this, they hope to pave the way for future clinical interventions, in particular looking at ways to enhance the effectiveness of combining cognitive behavioural therapy and brain stimulation.

Our research so far has shown that ultrasound can bring about temporary changes within the brain without adverse effects. These changes create opportunities to promote neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to rewire itself – which is key when considering new treatment for a number of disorders. However, we have evidence to suggest that the state of certain brain areas – for example, if you are awake or asleep, or paying attention to a task or not – can affect the outcome of ultrasound application. We need to explore that further, as it will be fundamentally important when thinking about treatments.

Elsa FouragnanElsa Fouragnan
Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Principal Investigator

The four-year project is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, and will also involve partners at Stanford University, the University of Exeter, Kings College London and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm).
It is the latest in a series of studies to take place within the Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC), a state-of-the-art research facility opened in 2022 to help better understand brain activity and human behaviour.
Those studies have previously highlighted how ultrasound could be used to treat psychiatric disorders and change the decision-making process.
Through the new project, TUS will be used on a number of study participants, with researchers then analysing the varied impacts using neuroimaging technologies such as MRI scans.

If we are to roll this technique out across health services, we need to improve our understanding of precisely how it works best. Because we know TUS is very precise in the brain and can reach deep regions, we need to now explore its replicability and dependence on states. We could also have an array of stimulation in different areas if there is good reason to believe that different sections of the brain are communicating in a dysfunctional way, and that could open the door to even more transformational treatments in the future.


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Brain Research & Imaging Centre

The Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC), the most advanced multi-modal brain imaging facility in the South West, will provide the sea-change to enhance the quality of our research in human neuroscience.
With seven cutting-edge human research laboratories, BRIC will include an MRI suite with the most advanced 3-Tesla scanner in the region. It will critically advance our enquiry toward the most advanced brain research, improved radiological diagnostics and better patient care.
BRIC building development, December 2020

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