NOV 16, 2015 04:43 AM PST

Getting Directly to the Brain

The blood brain barrier, or BBB, is essentially the gatekeeper of the brain. Certain substances can pass through it, but most cannot. It’s the body’s way of protecting brain tissue from neurotoxins and infections. The flip side is that sometimes the BBB can inhibit treatment of brain infections and tumors. Finding out how to breach this barrier has been the focus of many studies and research projects and some scientists in Canada may finally have found a way.
 
Astrocytes surrounding a brain vessel

First, an explanation of how the BBB works. It’s all about the blood vessels. In most parts of the body, the smallest blood vessels, called capillaries, are lined with endothelial cells. These cells have spaces between them so that anything ingested can pass in to or out of the blood stream. Capillaries in the brain are different though. Endothelial cells there are joined together tightly, essentially saying ‘None shall pass’ so most substances cannot get through.  In addition there are Glial cells (astrocytes) that form a layer around brain blood vessels and these cells make the barrier even more difficult to cross.  
 
New information from Canada suggests that a research team at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre may have found the way in. Using focused ultrasound researchers in Toronto demonstrated a way to breach the BBB and believe this method will be a significant advance in treating brain cancer and perhaps other neurological conditions as well. 
 
Dr. Todd Mainprize was the principal investigator in the study. He is a neurosurgeon at in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook and in a press release he stated, “The blood-brain barrier (BBB) has been a persistent obstacle to delivering valuable therapies to treat disease such as tumours. We are encouraged that we were able to temporarily open this barrier in a patient to deliver chemotherapy directly to the brain tumour.” 
 
How did they do it? In a sense, they shook things up a little. They combined a chemotherapy drug along with microscopic air bubbles that are even smaller than red blood cells and infused the mixture into the bloodstream of a patient suffering from a malignant brain tumor.  Using MRI to guide them, the doctors focused sound waves from a low –intensity ultrasound machine on the blood vessels in the same area as the tumor.  The ultrasound caused the bubbles to expand and contract, producing vibrations that loosened the bonds of the cells in the BBB. Once these tight junctions were opened a bit, the chemo could slip through and go on its way to the effected area of the brain.
 
Getting through the barrier was only the first part of the equation. The team at Sunnybrook wanted to know if the tumor fighting drugs had made a difference in the brain tissue. Almost immediately after infusion, the tumor was removed surgically along with some parts of the surrounding area. The samples are currently being analyzed by the team to check the levels of chemo in the tumor and other areas to see how much of the drug was able to get where it was most needed. 
 
The procedure done recently was the first of a total of ten patients that have agreed to be part of the study. The doctors and researchers in Toronto hope to test the technique on more patients before they publish any results. Check out the video below from Sunnybrook to hear more from the doctors who performed this groundbreaking procedure.
 
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
SEP 17, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
SEP 17, 2018
A Fast New Method to Make an Important Type of Brain Cell
Scientists have developed a better way to create astrocytes, a cell type hat has been implicated in neurodegenerative diseases....
SEP 24, 2018
Videos
SEP 24, 2018
The Science of Being Transgender
Gender identity is an issue that some have trouble understanding. It’s not always about male or female, because gender can encompass more than those...
OCT 03, 2018
Neuroscience
OCT 03, 2018
Towards Predicting Autism In Pregnancy
Autism is a growing health concern for medical professionals, educators, patients, and family. The latest numbers from the CDC (2014) put the incidence of ...
NOV 12, 2018
Plants & Animals
NOV 12, 2018
Researchers Link Sunfish Brain Size to Specific Habitats
To most people, a specific fish species would be the same whether it was found at the shoreline or in the middle of the ocean. But according to research pu...
NOV 16, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
NOV 16, 2018
Using Light to Control Organ Development
Optogenetics combined genetic engineering with optics to create a way to control cellular behaviors with light....
NOV 16, 2018
Health & Medicine
NOV 16, 2018
Liver gets activated by just seeing and smelling food!
liver also gets activated by sight and the smell of food in anticipation of the prerequisite metabolic changes required for food intake....
Loading Comments...