Cultivating the Next Generation — The Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s Fellowship Program

By Matt Eames, PhD, Director of Extramural Research — Focused Ultrasound Foundation

At the Focused Ultrasound Foundation (FUSF), an important part of our mission includes identifying, educating, and mentoring future focused ultrasound clinicians and scientists. With this goal in mind, several years ago we launched our International Research Fellowship Program. Today this program includes internship and fellowship opportunities for the best minds in the field, both in the US and abroad.

The Foundation’s International Research Fellowship Program began in the summer of 2012 with our first fellow, CNRS-funded research professor Jean-François (Jeff) Aubry, PhD, who took a year-long sabbatical from the Institut Langevin, Espci Paris to join FUSF. In his fellowship role, Jeff collaborated on research projects with both Foundation staff and researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA). His projects ranged from thermal dose predictive modeling to head phantom development for acoustic testing. Upon his return to Paris, Jeff was elected as president of the International Society for Therapeutic Ultrasound for a three-year term, and he continues to visit Charlottesville to advance ongoing collaborative research projects. It was clear to us after our very productive experience with Jeff that we had identified a crucial unmet need by offering this fellowship as a unique opportunity for inter-institutional collaboration in the field of focused ultrasound.

Thanks in no small part to the philanthropic support of Dr. Richard Merkin and his vision of educating the best in the field, we formalized our fellowship program. The renamed Richard Merkin Visiting Fellowship in Focused Ultrasound program fosters collaboration among the Foundation, the fellow’s home institution, and other institutions. It is open to mid-career or senior scientists and clinicians from industry or academia around the world to work with the technical and scientific team at the Foundation for approximately 12 months. The program provides the infrastructure for fellows to conduct original research in focused ultrasound and participate in ongoing focused ultrasound research projects with members of the Foundation and investigators at UVA and other institutions. Fellows are expected to conduct publishable technical and pre-clinical research and present their work and promote the field of focused ultrasound. In turn, fellows benefit from the Foundation’s wide expertise in focused ultrasound, and enjoy opportunities to seek out and work closely with other investigators and clinicians throughout the Foundation’s network of research sites to stimulate the development of new translational and clinical research projects.

The first Merkin Scholar under the Richard Merkin Visiting Fellowship was Dong-guk Paeng, PhD, a research professor at Jeju National University in South Korea. While at FUSF, Dong-guk — who runs an underwater acoustics lab at his university — began learning about histotripsy (a promising new application of focused ultrasound) and designed and executed a large animal study in collaboration with FUSF and UVA to investigate thermal dose delivery strategies. The results are in final review with Scientific Reports, an open-access journal from the publishers of Nature. Today Dong-guk continues to be a focused ultrasound ambassador worldwide, and helps the Foundation build its network in Korea, China, Japan, and Taiwan. He was also so impressed by the capabilities of focused ultrasound that he recruited his senior graduate student, Changzhu Jin, to intern at the Foundation for a full year (Changzhu then successfully defended his PhD dissertation titled “Ray Based Skull Compensation for Transcranial Focused Ultrasound,” a topic that united his lab’s acoustics experience and the output of his collaboration in focused ultrasound at the Foundation and UVA).

(L-R) Francesco Prada, Dong-guk Paeng, Jeff Aubrey

The Foundation’s second Merkin Visiting Fellowship was awarded to Cyril Lafon, PhD, a research professor at the University of Lyon, who is currently re-establishing his life in Lyon as the newly-appointed research director for his lab, LabTAU, having just concluded his Merkin Fellowship this past summer. Cyril took his fellowship opportunity in an entirely new direction by focusing on ultrasound-enhanced immunotherapy research in addition to managing a technical study on controlling cavitation threshold in thermal therapy. Cyril’s cavitation work is in revision with the IEEE journal TUFFC (Transactions on Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control).

In 2017 the Foundation is benefiting from rapidly growing interest in the fellowship program from new candidates — certainly a product of the positive and productive experiences of our former fellows. We have also benefited from the exceptional generosity of Dr. Merkin, who agreed to fund an additional Merkin Scholar in 2017, allowing the Foundation to host both a PhD researcher and a clinical researcher with an MD. Our two Merkin Scholars are Frederic Padilla, PhD, a FUS researcher from Cyril Lafon’s group at the LabTAU and Francesco Prada, MD, a neurosurgeon from Milan, Italy, and our first clinical fellow, who is working on sonodynamic therapy involving a surgical dye called fluorescein and on MR-elastography for early detection of the treatment effects of FUS. An additional, Foundation-funded fellow, Murat Karabiyikoglu, MD, is a former life-science investment professional and neurosurgeon. Murat is conducting independent research projects to help make the case for commercial adoption of the technology, especially for brain applications.

To apply for a fellowship or internship position with the Foundation in 2018, please contact me at meames@fusfoundation.org.

More information on the Merkin Visiting Fellowship in Focused Ultrasound


Blog post written by Matt Eames, PhD, Director of Extramural Research. Dr. Eames manages the Foundation’s External Awards Program — an investigator-initiated and peer-reviewed research funding track — and provides support to the Foundation’s technical, pre-clinical, and clinical trial Internal Awards Programs. His research experience in ultrasound physics and transducer design and evaluation allows him to form collaborative relationships with members of the ultrasound industry and research communities who share a common interest in advancing the Foundation’s research programs. Dr. Eames earned his bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and his PhD from the University of Virginia, both in biomedical engineering.

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