Canadian Researchers Discover New Treatment Method that Breaks the Blood-Brain Barrier

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The medical community has recently been shaken to its core by a new medical development out of Toronto. A brand new method of medication delivery has been tested, and for the first time ever, the blood-brain barrier has been broken. It took nearly two decades to get to this point, but researchers are now celebrating the initial use of this groundbreaking treatment in a human- chemotherapy medication was directly administered into a malignant brain tumor.

Doctors Have Not Been Able to Get Medication Directly into Brain Cells Until Now

Researchers discovered more than 100 years ago that the brain blocks out foreign substances. In early tests with animals, scientists injected blue dye into the bloodstream. At the time, they were perplexed, as the animal’s tissues would absorb the dye, but the brain would not. Now we understand that there’s a blood-brain barrier. The blood vessels which lead to the brain have a special lining designed to block toxins out. While bloodflow restriction training serves a valuable function and helps keep our brains healthy, it has historically made it impossible to treat brains cells with general medications in a non-invasive way.

The New Method is Groundbreaking

Although the concept is completely different than anything that’s been done before, the process is incredibly simple and consists of just three steps.

  1. Medication is administered into a patient’s bloodstream. In this case, the patient received doxorubicin, a chemotherapy drug.
  2. Gas microbubbles are injected into the bloodstream. The process is completely harmless, though the bubbles are smaller than red blood cells, so they can travel freely.
  3. A high-intensity ultrasound is focused on the area medication needs to enter. The gas bubbles break apart the proteins around the capillaries, enabling the medication to pass through. Doctors who worked on the project explain that after about 12 hours, the brain heals itself, and the blood-brain barrier is intact again.

The First Brain Tumor Patient has Been Treated with the Method

Todd Mainprize, a neurosurgeon at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre was a lead in the study. He noted the difficulties that the medical community has had in treating brain tumors due to the blood-brain barrier. “We are encouraged that we were able to temporarily open this barrier in a patient to deliver chemotherapy directly to the brain tumor,” he said after the first procedure was compete. The initial patient was a grandmother and a business owner named Bonnie Hall. Her brain tumor had remained unchanged for about eight years before it began rapidly growing. Previously, patients with her condition had a grim prognosis. There wasn’t much doctors could do besides surgically removing a tumor. In Ms. Hall’s case, the tumor was still surgically removed, but it’s because doctors want to analyze the difference in her tissues between the areas which received the new treatment and those that did not.

The Discovery Could Pave the Way for Many Medical Developments

Dr. Mainprize is enthusiastic about the implications of the new treatment method. “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,” he said in a recent interview. While the process is certainly a huge development for cancer treatment, there are many other health issues that may benefit from the discovery as well. A company called Focused Ultrasound Foundation funded the research. Company Chairman Neal Kassell referred said that the development “opens up a new frontier in treating brain disorders,” and reported that non-invasive treatment using ultrasound technology will may soon be developed for many types of brain conditions. People battling Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, as well as those recovering from strokes and managing mental health issues will all likely have improved treatment methods and outcomes in the future. Because the new method can help with all kinds of brain diseases and disorders, the list of people it will help over time is exponential.

Although the first patient’s tumor has not yet been fully analyzed, doctors are anticipating drastic results. The new technique is in its preliminary testing stages, so it is not yet available to the general public. However, nine more people are slated to undergo the procedure, and the results will hopefully enable it to become widely-used. No word has been given as to when it will be available for people outside of the study.