The first-in-the-nation treatment looks for a new way to combat opioid addiction.

By: KDKA-TV News Staff

MORGANTOWN (KDKA) – After a year that was the deadliest for drug overdoses in the United States, West Virginia University has launched a first-in-the-world kind of treatment to address the opioid crisis.

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The WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute has begun a clinical trial to investigate the use of focused ultrasound technology to treat those suffering from opioid addiction.

The study which is in collaboration with Insightec will focus on the safety and potential of focused ultrasound treatments that would reduce cravings and addictive behaviors.

“COVID-19 has tragically intensified our nation’s addiction crisis,” Dr. Ali Rezai, RNI executive chair and principal investigator of this study said. “We need to explore technological innovations such as focused ultrasound to help patients and families impacted by addiction. At the RNI, we are routinely using focused ultrasound as an FDA-approved procedure to treat tremors and are conducting clinical trials to explore its potential for treating Alzheimer’s disease and brain tumors.”

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A 30-minute procedure applies focused ultrasound waves to the nucleus accumbens, which is a key structure in the brain involved in addiction and anxiety. Researchers then used visuals of drug use and drug paraphernalia to induce cravings prior to and during the half-hour procedure.

A 39-year-old business owner is the first participant in the study and they successfully and safely underwent the procedure.

WVU is also exploring other technologies to combat opioid addiction, including wearable technology and artificial intelligence.

In 2019, WVU also launched a first-in-the-U.S. trial exploring deep brain stimulation to treat addiction and its first patient recently celebrated more than a year of sobriety after struggling with substance abuse for 18 years.

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“We were all impressed with the patient’s bravery to help explore new treatment options for substance use disorder. While the current treatment options for substance use disorder work for many, they don’t work for everyone for a variety of reasons,” said James Mahoney, RNI addiction researcher, a clinical neuropsychologist, and assistant professor in the WVU Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry and Department of Neuroscience.