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Finance advances $2M bill for WVU research

CHARLESTON — The House Finance Committee advanced a bill that would provide $2 million to West Virginia University for medical research into using ultrasound technology to treat eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

HB 5014 is sponsored by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who told Finance Committee members that it’s “to change the lives of tens of thousands of West Virginians.” The legislation would provide the money for the current fiscal year, relying on surplus funds.

Dr. Ali Rezai, executive chairman of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at WVU, described research into ultrasound technology that could help with disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

“We could rapidly clear the plaques in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s using this technology,” he said.

Also, he said, the ultrasound technology could be used to help treat people with severe substance abuse disorders such as opioid or methamphetamine addiction. And, he said, patients with eating disorders and severe obesity could benefit from treatment through the ultrasound technology.

“We think using ultrasound in the same part of the brain, the craving part of the brain that is malfunctioning, and resetting that part, we may be able to help people with severe binge-eating disorder resulting in obesity.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has provided final approval to start, Rezai said, and studies on the effects of ultrasound therapy on people with eating disorders could commence as soon as April or May.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is yet another potential subject for ultrasound treatment, Rezai said.
“We have seen in our addiction population that PTSD symptoms can be dramatically reduced with anxiety and stress using this technology, so we want to explore a second study with the FDA looking at veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Delegates on the committee asked how the dollars would be used.

Rezai responded that coordinators would have to be hired for the FDA trials, along with meeting other expenses like scans, brain imaging and blood tests. “Those are all very expensive, and that takes money and resources and individuals dedicated to that study.”

An initial pilot safety and feasibility study could then lead to justification for additional funding from the National Institutes of Health, donors or industry support, he said.

“But we want to show proof of concept like we did with addiction and Alzheimers,” he said. “We want to explore it quickly because if funding is provided we can start in April or May with eating disorders.”

Albert Wright, president and chief executive of the West Virginia University Health System, told the committee that he’s excited about the research potential.

“Our long-term goal is to perfect these things in Morgantown, and we built a network of hospitals that can spread it across the state,” Wright said. “Or we can do this in our regional hubs — the Charlestons, the Wheelings, the Martinsburgs, you name it. That’s our long-term goal.”

Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia, expressed enthusiasm for the potential.

“This is fantastic. This is huge stuff that’s happening in Morgantown,” he said. “This is investment. We can show what’s possible by giving money to our research institutions.

“And so when we give this $2 million today, let’s not forget the impact it will have and let’s keep that in mind when we have similar options to appropriate money to our research institutions.”

Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, also described the move as an economic development investment.

“Don’t think of this as just medical research,” said Rohrbach, who is the deputy speaker and a physician. “This is an investment in the business capacity of our state.”