Breaching the blood-brain barrier for the first time

Written by Alice Weatherston

Sunnybrook Health Centre (ON, Canada) scientists have this week revealed a potentially key breakthrough in neurological research. The team utilized focused ultrasound to non-invasively breach the blood-brain barrier of a patient, consequently overcoming one of the key obstacles for the development of therapies for neurological conditions.
The procedure was carried out in a brain tumor patient in an effort to deliver chemotherapy to the site more effectively. The chemotherapy drug of choice was infused into the blood and then closely followed by microscopic bubbles capable of flowing through the circulation system due to their small size.

MRI-guided focused low-intensity ultrasound was then utilized to target blood vessels in the area of the blood-brain barrier near to the tumor site. The microbubbles within the blood vessels repeatedly compressed and expanded in response to the ultrasound waves, causing them to vibrate and to consequently loosen the tight junctions of the blood-brain barrier cells. The chemotherapy was then able to flow through to the target site.

Todd Mainprize (University of Toronto; ON, Canada), Principal Investigator on the study, commented on the work: “Some of the most exciting and novel therapeutics for the treatment of malignant brain tumors are not able to reach the tumor 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 research utilized the Exablate Neuro platform developed by Kullervo Hynynen (Sunnybrook Research Institute; ON, Canada) in collaboration with Insightec Ltd. over almost two decades. He commented: “The success of this case is gratifying. My hope now is that many patients will eventually benefit from it.”

The recent case involves the first of up to 10 participants, all who were scheduled for traditional neurosurgery for tumor removal, planned to be included in the study which is seeking confirmation of feasibility, safety and efficacy of the technology.

Importantly the initial success of the technique increases hope for effective drug delivery for a range of neurological diseases in addition to its use in neuro-oncology, in particular for increasingly prevalent dementias as well as hard to treat psychiatric disorders.

Source: Sunnybrook Health Science Centre press release; Elbit Imaging Ltd. press release via PR Newswire