William (Jamie) Tyler, who has received international attention for research on the development of low-intensity ultrasound for the treatment of such brain disorders as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease, has joined the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke.
Tyler will be an assistant professor with the institute and with the School of Biomedical Engineering and Science in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. He has been an assistant professor of neurobiology and bioimaging in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University since 2006.
In 2010, he was awarded the Arizona Governor's Innovator of the Year Award for Academia for his research on noninvasive brain stimulation therapies using ultrasound. His work has resulted in several patent applications, the development of prototype devices, and the formation of medical device company, SynSonix LLC, which is pursuing its R&D activities in Cambridge, Mass.
"My group studies the fundamental properties of synaptic transmission and how best to control neuronal activity for making nervous systems more efficient," he says. The ability to treat a number of major brain disorders that become unresponsive to pharmacological intervention, such as Parkinson’s disease, major depression, or severe seizures, can require invasive neurosurgery with the placement of stimulating electrodes deep into the brain. Such treatments are effective but risky, so they are used rarely and not until other treatment options have been exhausted. Tyler has demonstrated on laboratory animal models that pulsed ultrasound can be used to stimulate neuronal activity without the need for invasive brain surgery or genetic manipulation.
Tyler says, "The aim of his group’s work is to stimulate cells in specific regions of the brain to release communication molecules called neurotransmitters since many brain disorders are a result of disrupted communication between groups of nerve cells. Their work is supported by the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. SynSonix is developing a platform for medical devices that use ultrasound to regulate brain activity.
"We look forward to integrating several aspects of our research and development enterprise into the Roanoke and New River Valley technology corridors soon," Tyler says. In some embodiments, the SynSonix technology could take the form of helmet-mounted devices.
"While at this stage, the headgear is a bit bulky for around the clock wear, the military is interested because the technology is a promising way to treat soldiers returning from war who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries," Tyler says. Over 1.5 million Americans per year suffer a traumatic brain injury.
Not only are they the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but traumatic brain injuries are the greatest cause of death and disability in children as well as an increasingly important health issue for athletes and the aging population due to falls and poor balance.