APR 16, 2021 11:45 AM PDT

Ion pump delivers chemotherapy directly to brain tumors

New research published in Advanced Materials Technologies highlights a development in fighting glioblastoma. The study from researchers at Linköping University in Sweden and the Medical University of Graz in Austria reports having successfully demonstrated drug delivery to glioblastoma cells in culture by way of an ion pump. The use of an ion pump improves the accuracy with which chemotherapy drugs are delivered to the brain tumor, while also reducing negative side effects from the treatment.

"This is the first time an ion pump has been tested as a possible method to treat malignant brain tumors,” comments Daniel Simon, associate professor at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at the Department of Science and Technology at Linköping University. “We used cancer cells in the lab, and the results are extremely promising. However, it will probably take five to ten years before we see this new technology used in treatments for brain tumors."

Because of the complex structure of the brain, when a tumor is removed via surgery there are often parts of the tumor left in between brain cells. This is why most patients with brain cancer suffer from tumor recurrences and why follow-up treatment of radiation and chemotherapy is necessary in most cases.

However, often chemotherapy drugs are limited from reaching the brain because they must pass through the blood-brain barrier, which is much more selective than other blood vessels in the circulatory system. (Watch the video below to learn more about the blood-brain barrier.) This is where the idea of the ion pump comes in. The ion pump acts as a tunnel that can pass through the blood-brain barrier in order to transport, in this case, the chemotherapy agent gemcitabine. 

 "The traditional glioblastoma treatment currently used in the clinics harms both cancer and neuronal cells to the same extent. However, with the gemcitabine ion pump, we tackle only the cancerous cells, while neurons stay healthy. In addition, our experiments on cultured glioblastoma cells show that more cancer cells are killed when we use the ion pump than when we use manual treatment," explains Linda Waldherr, a postdoctoral fellow at the Medical University of Graz. 

Another benefit of the ion pump is its low current and voltage, which means that it doesn’t affect the internal environment of brain cells. "The pressure inside the brain is extremely sensitive, and using an ion pump to transport the drug instead of a fluid-driven device means that the pressure is not affected. Also, the dosage is controlled by electrical charging, which makes the supply of the chemotherapy agent extremely precise. The next step will be to use the ion pump to evaluate different chemotherapy agents that have previously given adverse effects that are too serious or that are unable to pass the blood-brain barrier," concludes associate professor at the Medical University of Graz, Rainer Schindl. 

Sources: Advanced Materials Technologies, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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