Scientists have opened the blood-brain barrier for the first time

Oct 23, 2014

Image: Juan Gaertner/Shutterstock

By Neha Karl

The blood-brain barrier is a network of cells that separates the brain from the rest of the body, preventing harmful toxins and chemicals in the blood stream from entering the brain tissue. This blocking mechanism makes it very difficult to deliver drugs to the brain for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and cancer.

This protective barrier has been opened in animals but never in humans, until now. A medical start-up company CarThera in France, have opened and closed the barrier on demand with the help of an ultrasound brain implant and an injection of microbubbles.

The findings were presented last week at the Focused Ultrasound symposium in the US by Michael Canney, a neuroscientist at CarThera. The study involved the treatment of glioblastoma – the most aggressive form of brain cancer –  in four patients. Patients with glioblastoma usually need surgery to remove the tumour, after which they are given chemotherapy drugs to destroy any remaining cancerous cells. The blood-brain barrier becomes leaky when a tumour is present, so a small amount of the drugs are able to enter the brain.

“If more of the chemotherapy drugs could get through, they’d do a better job of killing cancer,” Canney told Chris Weller from Medical Daily.


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5 comments on “Scientists have opened the blood-brain barrier for the first time

  • 3
    Docjitters says:

    Statins cross over because they are able to bind and pass through the lipid membranes of the cells that make up the BBB. This is a method to allow presumably water-soluble chemotherapy through in a controlled timeframe.

    I do wonder however if their described method of ‘vibrating microbubbles’ is a result of cavitation – the repeated heating effect may not be good for brain tissue (but then neither is a glioma).

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  • Ok, I can’t comment on the basis for saying it never happened in humans before. I can vouch for my experience at the NIH back in the early 1980s. We – well, they really – used osmotic agents to open the blood-brain barrier to allow chemotherapeutic agents in. In humans – or so the patients claimed to be.

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