A team of scientists from Canada have been able to deliver drugs directly into brain cells by breaking through the blood-brain barrier in an effort to treat brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease via non-invasive procedures.
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The blood-brain barrier is a layer of tightly packed cells that prevent infections and toxins from getting into the blood vessels in the brain, and this barrier makes it nearly impossible to deliver drugs directly into brain cells to treat brain diseases such as tumors among others.
Neuroscientists from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre devised a method where they use microbubbles and focused ultrasound to get past the brain barrier and deliver drugs into brain cells. The results of the experiment was great in lab rats, and is now being tested on human patients – with Bonny Hall being the first human patient to undergo this test.
Hall is a businesswoman and grandmother with benign brain tumor that has been there for 8 years, growing fast and nearly becoming malignant. Her kind of tumor is called glioma, it spreads out like a web in the brain and difficult to treat with medications or completely remove with surgery.
According to Dr. Todd Mainprize, leader of this new study, surgery may remove some of the tumor and then chemotherapy used to treat what is left behind, but then only 25% of drugs reach the brain and this makes it pretty difficult for most brain cancer patients to survive their ordeals.
"Frankly speaking, our ability to treat this type of tumour, glioma, is not so good," Dr. Mainprize said. "Between 1940 and 2005, there has been very little progress in improving the outcome of these patients."
With the new procedure, three steps are involved: A patient is given doxorubicin, a chemotherapy medication. He is then injected with harmless gas microbubbles which gets directly into his bloodstream. And ultimately a high-intensity ultrasound beam is focused on the tumor so that the bubbles vibrate and dissect the proteins covering the capillaries, enabling the drugs to get directly into brain cells and tissue.
With patient Hall, the procedure was carried out last week. The chemotherapy drug she was injected was marked with a chemical tag so that it could be tracked on MRI scans, and the research team could see as the drug moved into the patient’s blood vessels and then straight into her brain tumor.
Kullervo Hynynen, one of the scientists perfecting the drug delivery technique noted the procedure would “revolutionize the way we treat brain disease completely. It will give hope to patients who have no hope," if it works for Hall the way it has worked for lab animals.
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Hall’s brain tumor was later removed and the tissue is now analyzing the tissue to see the amount of chemotherapy drug that entered into it. Meanwhile, nine other patients with brain cancer will undergo the same treatment and then the researchers will publish their findings.