New technique to deliver cancer treatment through the blood-brain barrier is hailed as a medical breakthrough and could be used in treating dementia or Parkinson’s in addition to cancer.
The blood-brain barrier is a highly efficient mechanism defending the brain and the central nervous system from potential toxin or pathogen invasions. However, acting as a protective fence it also prevents doctors from delivering targeted treatments to the brain in the case of brain tumors for instance.
Following the findings of a French team using microbubbles activated by ultrasound to open a passage in the barrier, a team of Canadian researchers perfected the technique and used it in experimental cases with great results. The Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centers team, led by Doctor Todd Mainprize and Doctor Kullervo Hynynen used the technique in a more targeted and efficient way.
The blood-brain barrier is difficult to penetrate. With the new technique to deliver cancer treatment through the blood-brain barrier, gaseous microbubbles are injected in the bloodstream in order to create a temporary rift. By themselves, the gaseous microbubbles cannot act. However, with focused ultrasound targeting the skull they vibrate until the temporary rupture is created in the blood-brain barrier.
Once the result is achieved, chemotherapy is allowed passage, targeting the tumor. The innovative technique has been tested in animal clinical trials. Only one human patient has been subjected to this type of treatment. However, a total of 10 patients are expected to undergo the procedure by the end of the clinical trial. The new technique is less invasive in addition to being more targeted.
Once chemotherapy has been injected in the patient’s bloodstream, the gaseous microbubbles are delivered to the bloodstream as well. MRI scans allow doctors to visualize the exact target area and the ultrasound waves are used in this specific area to expand the microbubbles that will break through the blood-brain barrier.
The microbubbles are reabsorbed in the lungs while only the chemotherapy passes through the temporary rift. This closes and heals in maximum 12 hours. Bonny Hall was the first patient to undergo the procedure targeting her brain tumor.
After following the procedure and safely delivering the chemotherapy, the research team used brain scans to understand if the drugs went directly where they needed to. Soon, they will also examine a sample of the tumor for a more clear insight on the results. Any results at this point are treated as preliminary.
Nonetheless, the new technique to deliver cancer treatment through the blood-brain barrier proved non-invasive, safe and reversible according to the MRI scans.
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