Breakthrough: Scientists attack cancer by hacking brain with ultrasound

Breakthrough: Scientists attack cancer by hacking brain with ultrasound

For the first time ever, scientists have breached the blood-brain barrier to deliver chemotherapy.

In a major finding that’s sure to send ripples through the medical community, scientists at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre have figured out how to deliver chemotherapy to the brain in a more effective manner — using ultrasound to permeate the blood-brain barrier.

This barrier, which has been described as a “saran wrap” that protects the brain from toxic substances, has been a challenge in the treatment of cancer, making it difficult to deliver therapies to fight tumors, according to an AOL report.

However, the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Todd Mainprize, said in a statement that the research team was able to “temporarily open this barrier in a patient to deliver chemotherapy directly to the brain tumor.”

How? By using a combination of microscopic bubbles and chemotherapy drugs, which are delivered into the bloodstream and travel through the circulatory system, and are then directed toward the tumor. They used a low-frequency ultrasound to contract and expand these bubbles, which loosens the cells in the blood-brain barrier and allows the drugs to pass through an opening.

It’s already passed a human trial, meaning it’s well on its way to becoming an important new treatment down the road, although more work will need to be done before it’s a viable option. Still, it’s an exciting discovery that could provide an important new option in treating tumors.

And it could be important not just for cancer patients, but those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other psychiatric problems.

Here is a brief, more thorough and technical explanation from the research team, via a news release: “The research team infused a chemotherapy drug, then tiny, microscopic bubbles, into the bloodstream of a patient with a malignant brain tumour. The microbubbles are smaller than red blood cells and pass harmlessly through the circulation. The researchers then used state-of-the-art MRI-guided focused low-intensity ultrasound (sound waves) to target blood vessels in the BBB area near the tumour. The waves repeatedly compress and expand the microbubbles, causing them to vibrate and loosen tight junctions of the cells comprising the BBB. Once the barrier was opened, the chemotherapy flowed through and deposited into the targeted regions.”

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