First Veterinary Patients Treated Using Focused Ultrasound


The first trials using focused ultrasound to treat cancer in veterinary patients are currently underway at 2 universities, and they’ve already generated positive results.

Focused Ultrasound Veterinary

In November 2017, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation launched a program to study focused ultrasound therapy in animals. The first funded trials are now underway, with more studies in the pipeline.

What Is Focused Ultrasound?

Relatively new, focused ultrasound is a noninvasive therapeutic technology that uses ultrasound energy guided by real-time imaging to kill tumors without surgery or radiation. Because it is noninvasive, focused ultrasound carries a reduced risk of infection, and the need for stitches and E-collars is eliminated. Focused ultrasound can also be used to ablate tissue or enhance the local delivery of therapeutic drugs. And because ionizing radiation is not involved, tumors can be treated in a single session—rather than the multiple visits requires for radiation therapy—and the treatments can be repeated.

“Traditionally, animals have served as models in comparative studies before expanding innovative therapies to human trials,” said Neal F. Kassell, MD, chairman for the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. “With this program, we are starting a virtuous cycle where veterinarians will have new, innovative therapies to offer clients, and we can apply the experience obtained using focused ultrasound in pets to accelerate the adoption of the technology for human applications.”


  • Focused Ultrasound in Veterinary Medicine
  • Enlisting Dogs in the War on Cancer

Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

One of the first trials to be funded by the foundation is taking place at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech to treat sarcomas and mast cell tumors in dogs. Researchers are using a device called Echopulse (Theraclion) originally developed to treat breast and thyroid conditions in humans to investigate whether focused ultrasound therapy can be used to destroy tumors noninvasively and stimulate the dogs’ own immune system to fight cancer.

“These canine tumors tend to occur on the limbs and may recur if they are not entirely removed,” said Jeffrey Ruth, DVM, MS, a clinical assistant professor of radiology at the university. “As a result, often amputation is required. It is our hope that focused ultrasound will add to current treatment options by providing a way to noninvasively ablate the mass and also trigger an anti-tumor immune response.”

One of Dr. Ruth’s patients is Maddi, a 9-year-old cocker spaniel that was diagnosed with a malignant sarcoma on the front leg. Focused ultrasound was used to effectively shrink the tumor, and then the remaining mass was then removed surgically. Follow-up appointments have indicated that Maddi is currently cancer-free.

“I felt so fortunate that my Maddi was chosen to be the first dog treated in the study,” said Maddi’s owner, Kitty Smith. And because the trial is being funded by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, the participating owners are not responsible for the majority of treatment costs.

Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Meanwhile, doctors at Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences are examining how focused ultrasound can be used to speed wound healing. More specifically, the team, led by Ashish Ranjan, BVSc, PhD, is using focused ultrasound to treat hygromas in dogs and cats. These masses can become infected and painful and are typically very challenging to treat.

“Hygromas have poor blood flow and are slow to heal, so any incision during treatment can make the situation worse,” said Dr. Ranjan, an associate professor at the university. “We expect this combined approach [of focused ultrasound and antibiotic therapy] to significantly improve healing time, and prevent infection recurrence."

“We feel focused ultrasound could meet a critical need in veterinary medicine by both expanding and improving treatment for a range of conditions,” said Kelsie Timbie, PhD, the foundation’s veterinary program director.

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