University of Virginia researchers are pioneering the use of focused ultrasound to defy the brain’s protective barrier so that doctors could, at last, deliver many treatments directly into the brain to battle neurological diseases. The approach, the researchers hope, could revolutionize treatment for conditions from Alzheimer’s to epilepsy to brain tumors – and even help repair the devastating damage caused by stroke.
Richard J. Price, PhD, of UVA’s School of Medicine and School of Engineering, is using focused soundwaves to overcome the natural “blood-brain barrier,” which protects the brain from harmful pathogens. His approach aims to breach the barrier only where needed, and only when needed, and then deliver treatments in exquisitely precise fashion.
“The blood-brain barrier is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, challenge to drug delivery for the central nervous system,” Price explained. “Evolution gave us this barrier because the central nervous system needs to be protected. The problem is now we want to deliver something to those cells and evolution has had millions and millions of years to optimize a solution to stop it. … So I’m attempting to circumvent biology with physics.”
Focused Ultrasound’s Power
Focused ultrasound focuses sound waves inside the brain much like a magnifying glass can focus light, letting doctors manipulate tissue without cutting into the skull. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), meanwhile, lets them watch what’s happening inside the brain in real time. While Price, a biomedical engineer, is developing his techniques in the lab, doctors are already using the technology to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s tremor.
Price marvels at the approach’s specificity. “With MRI, we can look at the target, whether it’s a brain tumor or maybe it’s a part of the brain we want to do gene therapy on, and we can select it – we can actually make a treatment plan and say, We only want to open the [blood-brain] barrier there. The other 95% of the brain, we don’t even touch,” said Price, the research director at UVA’s Focused Ultrasound Center. “Then, when we apply the focused ultrasound, it opens the barrier there for a few hours. It lets us get the gene therapy across, and then it closes naturally.”
Delivering Gene Therapy
Gene therapy introduced via focused ultrasound would essentially reprogram faulty cells.
For brain tumors, Price is exploring the potential of using focused ultrasound to deliver gene therapy via “deep-penetrating nanoparticles.” The nanoparticles, designed by Price’s collaborators at Johns Hopkins University, “are specifically engineered to penetrate the tissue extremely well,” he said. The problem has been transporting them where they’re needed, often deep inside the brain, and Price says focused ultrasound holds the answer.
His solution is to use the focused soundwaves to open spaces between cells in the tissue. “It doesn’t help us if you can’t get to the neuron that’s 50 microns away,” he said. “So that becomes an engineering transport problem.”
In addition to delivering the therapy, focused ultrasound can “precondition” targeted tissue to enhance the effectiveness of the gene delivery up to five-fold, Price has found. The preconditioning represents a “simple and effective strategy” to boost the benefits of the nanoparticles, he and his colleagues report in a scientific paper.
Improving Stroke Outcomes
For stroke, a condition that is often debilitating when it’s not deadly, Price aims to help the brain heal itself. He would do this by using focused ultrasound to put “homing molecules” inside damaged areas to recruit neural stem cells to do repairs. For this, his team has developed an innovative technique called “sonoselective transfection” that avoids opening the blood-brain barriers in brains that are already compromised.
“With stroke, there’s a lot of effort to try to salvage as much neural tissue as possible by doing things like gene therapy,” he said. “In our lab, we thought, well, maybe we can deliver treatment right to the cells that need it, without breaching the blood-brain barrier. And my students basically figured out how to do that.”
That notion of helping the body heal itself, of using focused ultrasound to activate an immune response, could be useful in cancer treatments as well. “We would love to be able to put something into those [tumor] cells that will then allow them to start recruiting immune cells into the tumor,” he said. “We have a lot of evidence that we can we can do some interesting things with focused ultrasound with respect to the internal landscape of those tumors.”
Price, of UVA’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, emphasizes that his work is still early, but he is excited to be creating new techniques that could change how many major diseases are treated in the not-too-distant future.
“We’ve had good results [with the research] so far. But what I, as an engineer, get excited about are all these tools we have made,” he said. “You can use these tools for all these different applications. We think there are a lot of really exciting possibilities.”
The Latest Updates from Bing News & Google News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- Engineered 'off the shelf' stem cells target breast cancer that metastasizes to the brainon March 5, 2021 at 8:14 am
Approximately 15-to-30 percent of patients with metastatic breast cancer have brain metastasis (BM), with basal-like breast cancer (BLBC) metastasizing to the brain most frequently. The prognosis for ...
- VC Daily: Khosla Ventures Backs Bionaut Labs Quest for Brain-Disease Treatmentson March 4, 2021 at 11:16 am
Investors including Khosla Ventures are betting that tiny remote-controlled robots from startup Bionaut Labs Inc. will enable better treatments for brain diseases.
- Nascent Biotech Earns US Patent for Crossing Blood-Brain Barrieron March 2, 2021 at 1:43 pm
The recent patent allowance recognizes PTB’s ability to act as a monotherapy, as well as its potential to act as a conjugate, bringing other therapies across the BBB. The blood-brain barrier is a ...
- Strategies for delivering therapeutics across the blood–brain barrieron March 1, 2021 at 8:39 am
The blood–brain barrier is a perennial challenge for the delivery of therapeutics to the central nervous system. In their Review, Terstappen and colleagues discuss non-invasive approaches to brain ...
- Cardiac glycosides target barrier inflammation of the vasculature, meninges and choroid plexuson February 26, 2021 at 9:30 am
Jansson et al. design a high content screening system to target inflammation in human brain cells of the blood–brain barrier (pericytes and endothelial cells) to identify inflammatory modifiers. They ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- Ultrasound Liver Stimulation Effectively Treats Obesity And Associated Complications In Mouse Studyon March 4, 2021 at 7:21 am
Stimulating the liver with focused ultrasound has shown extremely promising results for treating obesity in animal models, states a new study published in ...
- Ultrasound pulses focused at liver help treat obesity in mouse modelson March 3, 2021 at 6:39 pm
Obesity is one of the most pressing health problems in the world today, but a new study suggests a potential non-invasive treatment. In tests in mice, researchers found that directing ultrasound ...
- Feinstein Institutes and GE Research Demonstrate Ultrasound Stimulation Reduces Obesityon March 3, 2021 at 7:34 am
New research shows that liver-focused ultrasound stimulation significantly decreases chronic inflammation linked to obesity. In a study published today in Scientific Reports, researchers from the ...
- EDAP Selects Leading Reimbursement Consultancies MTP and Argenta Advisors to Expand Market Access and Coverage of HIFU in the USon March 3, 2021 at 5:15 am
Initiatives focused on making HIFU procedures broadly accessible to both Medicare and commercially insured patients LYON, France, March 3, 2021 -- EDAP TMS SA (Nasdaq: EDAP) (“the Company”), the ...
- EDAP Selects Leading Reimbursement Consultancies MTP and Argenta Advisors to Expand Market ...on March 2, 2021 at 9:02 pm
EDAP TMS SA (Nasdaq: EDAP) (“the Company”), the global leader in robotic energy-based therapies, announces today that the company has selected Medical Technology Partners (MTP) and Argenta Advisors, ...