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Friday
Nov132015

Crossing the Blood-Brain Barrier: Done with all the guesswork?

Most researchers who study molecules in the brain, that are not already there, know the difficulty of penetrating the blood-brain barrier. The “BBB” is a tightly joined layer of cells that shields the inside of the central nervous system from harmful pathogens and toxins, by acting like a filter between CSF and blood. The problem is that this filter doesn’t know when doctors are actively trying to reach the brain with medication, for example to treat glioblastoma, Alzheimer’s or psychiatric diseases. Much research has gone into predicting whether a compound will make it through the barrier or not, but even today it is a lot like gambling to find the right molecule to reach the brain.

It is hard enough to cure brain cancer per se, but the additional burden of crossing the BBB makes treatment a fight against windmills. Now researchers in Toronto may have found a way to solve that problem: Using ultrasound, micro-sized gas bubbles in a patient’s blood can be set into vibration, very gently and only transiently disrupting the blood brain barrier. By doing so, for a short amount of time molecules that usually do not reach our brain are admitted to the usually so well protected part of our body. The use of this technique to deliver chemotherapeutics to glioblastoma is currently under investigation. However, not the entire blood-brain barrier is being disrupted: Highly specialized MRI equipment enable localization of the area, where BBB disruption would lead to a maximal delivery of the agent. Using super-focused ultrasound, researchers are then able to localize the area of BBB disruption with very high precision. Careful optimization of irradiation energy ensures reversibility of the process.

The latest in vivo result will show how effective the approach is, and if there’s promise for more broadly applicable versions thereof in the future. In any case, the creativity and interdisciplinarity makes me feel optimistic that we will eventually find ways to deal with the body’s toughest border, which would be a milestone towards understanding the brain and battling its diseases.

-MGS-   

More about the topic:

The Toronto case: http://www.popsci.com/bubbles-burst-blood-brain-barrier-beneficial-or-bad

How it works: http://www.jove.com/video/3555/mri-guided-disruption-blood-brain-barrier-using-transcranial-focused

On the science behind it: http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/7355_2013_37?no-access=true

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