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Blood-brain barrier disruption with low-intensity pulsed ultrasound for the treatment of pediatric brain tumors: a review and perspectives


Introduction: Opening of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) by pulsed low intensity ultrasound has been developed during the last decade and is now recognized as a safe technique to transiently and repeatedly open the BBB. This non- or minimally invasive technique allows for a targeted and uniform dispersal of a wide range of therapeutic substances throughout the brain, including immune cells and antibodies.

Methods: In this review article, we summarize pre-clinical studies that have used BBB-opening by pulsed low intensity ultrasound to enhance the delivery of immune therapeutics and effector cell populations, as well as several recent clinical studies that have been initiated. Based on this analysis, we propose immune therapeutic strategies that are most likely to benefit from this strategy. The literature review and trial data research were performed using Medline/Pubmed databases and clinical trial registry . The reference lists of all included articles were searched for additional studies.

Results: A wide range of immune therapeutic agents, including small molecular weight drugs, antibodies or NK cells, have been safely and efficiently delivered to the brain with pulsed low intensity ultrasound in preclinical models, and both tumor control and increased survival have been demonstrated in different types of brain tumor models in rodents. Ultrasound-induced BBB disruption may also stimulate innate and cellular immune responses.

Conclusions: Ultrasound BBB opening has just recently entered clinical trials with encouraging results, and the association of this strategy with immune therapeutics creates a new field of brain tumor treatment.

Keywords: Blood–brain barrier; Drug delivery; Immunotherapy; Low intensity pulsed ultrasound.


The blood-brain barrier (BBB) limits the efficacy of drug therapies for glioblastoma (GBM). Preclinical data indicate that low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPU) can transiently disrupt the BBB and increase intracerebral drug concentrations.

Patients and methods:

A first-in-man, single-arm, single-center trial (NCT02253212) was initiated to investigate the transient disruption of the BBB in patients with recurrent GBM. Patients were implanted with a 1-MHz, 11.5-mm diameter cranial ultrasound device (SonoCloud-1, CarThera). The device was activated monthly to transiently disrupt the BBB before intravenous carboplatin chemotherapy.


Between 2014 and 2016, 21 patients were registered for the study and implanted with the SonoCloud-1; 19 patients received at least one sonication. In 65 ultrasound sessions, BBB disruption was visible on T1w MRI for 52 sonications. Treatment-related adverse events observed were transient and manageable: a transient edema at H1 and at D15. No carboplatin-related neurotoxicity was observed. Patients with no or poor BBB disruption (n = 8) visible on MRI had a median progression-free survival (PFS) of 2.73 months, and a median overall survival (OS) of 8.64 months. Patients with clear BBB disruption (n = 11) had a median PFS of 4.11 months, and a median OS of 12.94 months.


SonoCloud-1 treatments were well tolerated and may increase the effectiveness of systemic drug therapies, such as carboplatin, in the brain without inducing neurotoxicity.See related commentary by Sonabend and Stupp, p. 3750.

©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.