The blood-brain barrier has been broken for the first time in history. Doctor Todd Mainprize, of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, and in concert with other neuroscientists, has successfully broken the blood-brain barrier, opening the way for revolutionary new treatments for brain cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, stroke, Parkinson’s, and more.
The procedure, which took place earlier in the week according to CTV News, was used to successfully treat Bonny Hall’s brain tumor by non-invasively delivering medication deep into the brain using microbubbles and focused ultrasound to force cancer medication through the blood-brain barrier. Dr. Mainprize discussed the revolutionary treatment with CTV.
“Frankly speaking, our ability to treat this type of tumour, glioma, is not so good. […] Between 1940 and 2005, there has been very little progress in improving the outcome of these patients.”
“It went exactly as hoped.”
The treatment involves first dosing the patient with medication. Afterward, harmless microbubbles are injected into the bloodstream, and a high-intensity ultrasound beam is directed at the tumor, causing the microbubbles to vibrate. This gently tears the proteins around the capillary walls, allowing the medication to painlessly and harmlessly enter the brain tissue, something that has been impossible to achieve up to this point.
Hall’s tumor was what is known as a glioma, a type of tumor that is difficult for doctors to treat through surgery due to its tendency to spread out in a web. Attempting to remove all of a glioma from a patient’s brain surgically is almost invariably fatal. Patients with glioblastomas (stage four gliomas) survive an average of one year, and almost never survive beyond three with conventional treatment. Doctors can use chemotherapy to treat the remaining parts of the tumor, but at best, 25 percent of the chemotherapy drugs reach the brain due to the blood-brain barrier. Chemotherapy has to be very carefully administered, as the drugs can be fatal themselves in greater doses; it’s not simply a matter of increasing the treatment.
The new technique developed by Dr. Mainprize and his associates changes the game completely. As researcher and Sunnybrook Director of Physical Sciences Dr. Kullervo Hynynen put it, “It will revolutionize the way we treat brain disease completely. It will give hope to patients who have no hope.”
Soon, nine other brain cancer patients will be treated in the same way and the results studied. Sunnybrook cancer specialist Dr. Maureen Trudeau, head of the division of medical oncology and hematology, is also planning her own study of the technique, intending to see if the treatment can deliver more of the chemotherapy drug Herceptin into the brain tumors of HER2-positive breast cancer patients whose breast cancer has spread through the lymph nodes to the brain.
For those not in the know, as per The Globe and Mail, Dr. Mainprize likens the blood-brain barrier to cling-wrap which coats the blood vessels of the brain. It’s an extremely-selective filter designed to protect the brain and keep toxins out. Unfortunately, and up until now, this has also applied to medication of all sorts and severely limited doctors’ ability to treat brain conditions. As Dr. Hynynen says, “[this treatment] will allow us to use many, many more medications in the brain than we can currently use.”
Hynynen indicated that about 98 percent of the substances that could potentially be used to treat brain conditions were, until now, unusable as they could not penetrate the blood-brain barrier. This includes antibodies that have been shown in animal studies to be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, and stem cells which could be used to treat stroke victims.
Dr. Mainprize is extremely enthusiastic about future applications for the blood-brain barrier bypass treatment.
“With […] this technique, you can selectively open almost anywhere in the brain and deliver whatever you want. Essentially, whatever you can think of is a potential study that may help in the future.”
Update: A brief video of the researchers at work on the technique has been made available by Global News.
[Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]