(Mirror Daily, United States)- Neuroscientists use ultrasound to breech the blood-brain barrier in an effort to come up with a non-invasive form of treatment for several brain diseases. Several Canadian neuroscientists have managed to break through the blood-brain barrier for the first time by using ultrasounds to fragment cells in a process known as sonication.
Todd Mainprize, a neurosurgeon working as part of the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto has pioneered the new method with the help of several other Canadian neuroscientists. The method could help treat several forms of brain disease previously untreatable due to the blood-brain barrier.
The blood-brain barrier is a defense mechanism that the human body naturally has in order to prevent germs and chemicals in the bloodstream from reaching the brain and protect the body from infections. However, it also prevents the treatment of multiple brain diseases, as drugs that are administered in the patient’s bloodstream cannot reach the brain due to this barrier.
Among these diseases is a form of brain tumor known as a Glioma, which is particularly difficult to treat as it tends to branch out, making surgical removal of the tumor in its entirety virtually impossible. Chemotherapy that doctors can use on these tumors is also very restrictive and offers very few possibilities, as most of the chemotherapy drugs cannot reach the brain because of the blood-brain barrier.
This new treatment course could help breech this barrier by using ultrasounds. The process that the scientists have come up with, called sonication, uses sound frequencies too high for humans to hear (or ultrasounds) in order to fragment cells in the body. When ultrasounds interact with air bubbles the air bubbles compress and expand at a very rapid rate, causing a vibration which in turn loosens the junctions between cells.
Using this method, doctors can now introduce a chemotherapy drug in the patient’s bloodstream, which then produces microscopic bubbles that can pass through the circulatory system easily. They can then uses pulses of ultrasound on certain blood vessels in the patient’s brain. These pulses will interact with the microscopic bubbles and cause openings in the blood-brain barrier.
These small cracks in the barrier will then allow the chemotherapy drugs to reach the tumor, as they are located in previously targeted areas near it, which the doctors have chosen when applying the ultrasounds to the blood vessels in the brain. In order to verify that the drugs have reached the tumor, the doctors remove small portions of the tumor within 24 hours of the treatment and test the different chemo concentrations in different regions of the tumor.
The trials are limited to patients already scheduled for traditional neurosurgery for now, because of the invasive nature of the treatment. But scientist are confident that the early success of the research will lead to new treatment options for other brain diseases previously untreatable because of the existence of the blood-brain barrier.
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