The blood-brain barrier has been referred to in research as the "holy grail." The purpose of it is to protect the brain from certain toxins; however, the flip side of that means that some drugs to treat neurological conditions like Alzheimer's, cancer, and brain trauma cannot get through its fortress-like structure.
Cells that cause cancer can get through it however, and that is why researchers are so focused on understanding how it works and trying to find ways for beneficial medicines to get past it to treat brain disorders.
So far the research has focused on making cellular models of the BBB in the lab and then being able to manipulate them to reveal the underpinnings of how they work. Models using animal cells have been the standard so far, but they aren't always ideal. Getting human tissue is also difficult, which has made the quest to develop a lab-created model a research priority. Dr. Zaynah Maherally and her team at the University of Portsmouth may have come up with a good option that comes very close to the real thing, and hopefully, it could be the way forward in treating neurological disease. Models are also useful in testing drugs since there is no risk of injury or side effects to animals or humans. They are necessary for simulating what happens when a new drug is administered. The study out of the University of Portsmouth is the product of years of intense work, and the results were recently published in the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology journal.
Dr. Maherally explained, in a press release, "The blood-brain barrier is strikingly complex and notoriously difficult for scientists to breach. Its role, to protect the brain, makes it difficult for most drugs to make their way into the brain to treat brain tumors. It is a dynamic structural, physiological and biochemical fortification that, in essence, protects the brain by providing multiple layers of armor, stopping molecules from entering the brain. It's highly selective in what it allows past. In a person with a brain disease like a brain tumor, or other neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease, dementia or head injuries, the strikingly complex defense works against medics and scientists trying to deliver what could be life-saving or life-prolonging treatments."
The model developed by the team at Portsmouth is the first of its kind, and hopefully, it will be useful for neuroscience researchers. Professor Geoff Pilkington, from the University of Portsmouth, led the research and stated, "This is the first real, 3D, all-human blood-brain barrier model and it's hugely significant in our field."
The model is uniquely suited to finding out cancers metastasize from the breast or lung to the brain. It will also be a perfect medium to test nano-particle delivery of drugs and to attempt to create temporary openings in the barrier that will let medications pass into the brain. It will also shorten the time it takes to test a new drug, getting it to clinical trials faster.