World first as blood-brain barrier opened non-invasively to deliver chemotherapy

Scientists at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Canada have made history this week by using focused ultrasound to non-invasively breach the blood-brain barrier and more effectively deliver chemotherapy into the brain tumour of a patient.

“The blood-brain barrier (BBB) has been a persistent obstacle to delivering valuable therapies to treat disease such as tumours,” explains Dr. Todd Mainprize, principal investigator of the study and Neurosurgeon in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook. “We are encouraged that we were able to temporarily open this barrier in the patient to deliver chemotherapy directly to the brain tumour.”

The research team infused a chemotherapy drug, then microscopic bubbles into the bloodstream of a patient with a malignant brain tumour. The micro-bubbles are smaller than red blood cells and pass harmlessly through the circulation. They used state-of-the-art MRI-guided focussed low-intensity ultrasound to target blood vessels in the BBB area near the tumour. The waves repeatedly compressed and expand the micro-bubbles, causing them to vibrate and loosen tight junctions of the cells comprising the BBB. Once the barrier was open, the chemotherapy flowed through and deposited into the targeted regions.

Dr Mainprise adds: “Some of the most exciting and novel therapeutics for the treatment of malignant brain tumours are not able to reach the tumour cells because of the blood brain barrier. This technique will open up new opportunities to deliver potentially much more effective treatments to the targeted areas.”

The success of this research opens up the potential for delivering drug therapies to parts of the brain protected by the BBB, including researching treatments for patients with various kinds of brain tumour, Alzheimer’s disease and some psychiatric conditions.

Image credit: Sunnybrook (Doug Nicholson / Media Source).


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