Cincinnati Children’s Scientists Publish Proof of Concept Of Noninvasive Therapy for Obesity-Related Diseases

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have demonstrated the feasibility of using ultrasound as a non-invasive therapy to destroy fat – a development that may lead to new treatments for metabolic syndrome. This syndrome includes a variety of conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prediabetes and type II diabetes, all of which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The researchers used MRI-guided high intensity focused ultrasound (MR-HIFU) to remove visceral fat tissue from overweight rats without having to make a knife cut or needle puncture. Visceral fat is stored within the abdominal cavity around a number of important internal organs such as the liver, kidneys and pancreas. It can be more dangerous than body fat by contributing to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other diseases.

The four rats that received treatment in this pilot study lost on average 7.5 percent of their body weight 10 days after being treated, despite having only a small amount of visceral fat removed (about 1.5 percent of their body weight).

To perform these experiments the researchers had to overcome some difficult technical challenges.

“Conventional MR temperature-imaging methods that allow us to see where we are destroying tissue and to monitor how much damage we are doing are not effective in fat, so we developed some new ways to overcome those difficulties,” says Chuck Dumoulin, PhD, director of the Imaging Research Center at Cincinnati Children’s and senior author of the study. “The unique abilities of MR-HIFU and the critical role of visceral fat in the development of obesity and disease suggest that MR-HIFU could be used to reduce the metabolic activity of fat in people who are overweight.”

The study is published online in the journal Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

The next step for the research team will be further studies to determine why the weight loss was greater than expected. If the results of this pilot study can be confirmed, the researchers believe that MR-HIFU might not only combat medical complications of obesity but also may be a safe, effective and non-invasive weight loss therapy. The only current medical treatment that offers sustained and dramatic weight loss is bariatric surgery.

MR-HIFU has been used for a number of years to treat uterine fibroids (non-cancerous growths of the uterus), and several other clinical indications are being investigated. But so far it has been used only in water-containing tissue. Little research has been done involving MR-HIFU in fat.

About Cincinnati Children’s

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center ranks third in the nation among all Honor Roll hospitals in U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 Best Children’s Hospitals. It is also ranked in the top 10 for all 10 pediatric specialties. Cincinnati Children’s, a non-profit organization, is one of the top three recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health, and a research and teaching affiliate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The medical center is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation. Additional information can be found at Connect on the Cincinnati Children’s blog, via Facebook and on Twitter.

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Jim Feuer