The blood-brain barrier acts as a natural defence mechanism to keep us safe from bacterial infections and other nasties that could cause harm if they were able to penetrate this shield-like barrier. In the same sense, this barrier also acts to hinder any attempts to treat diseases such as brain tumours and cancers, making it particularly difficult to administer drugs that are capable of reaching the patient’s brain.
Pioneering surgery in Canada has seen doctors successfully treat a brain disease using non-invasive techniques.
For the first time ever, surgeons have been able to deliver chemotherapy medication directly into a malignant brain tumour.
“The blood-brain barrier has been a persistent obstacle to delivering valuable therapies to treat disease such as tumours,” said Todd Mainprize, a neurosurgeon in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Canada and principal investigator of the study. ”We are encouraged that we were able to temporarily open this barrier in a patient to deliver chemotherapy directly to the brain tumour.”
The trial saw surgeons apply ultrasound waves through the skull, which produced bubbles that then acted to push their way through the barrier, allowing chemotherapy drugs to penetrate successfully.
Bonny Hall, 56, was the first person to take part in the trial. After her tumour started growing rapidly, doctors suggested a more aggressive therapy.
Brain scans following the surgery suggest a successful result and researchers will soon examine a part of Ms Hall’s tumour, which was removed the day after therapy, to confirm just how effective the treatment was.
“It’s going to also look after things like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, a lot of other diseases,” Hall told the BBC. “This isn’t just about a brain tumour.
“I just want to be a normal mum, a normal grandma, just a normal housewife, a normal wife. That’s all I really want to be.”
This case was the first of 10 to be scheduled for surgery. The treatment will tests the feasibility, safety and preliminary efficacy in participants who are already scheduled for traditional neurosurgery to remove parts of their brain tumour.
“Breaching this barrier opens up a new frontier in treating brain disorders,” says Dr. Neal Kassell, chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. “We are encouraged by the momentum building for the use of focused ultrasound to non-invasively deliver therapies for a number of brain disorders.”
This is a very important step in the development of MR-guided focused ultrasound technology,” says Eyal Zadicario, VP R&D and Director of Neuro Programs at Insightec. “We continue to push the technology into new clinical applications that can have significant impact where it matters most — to patients.”