A new approach to getting drugs through the blood-brain barrier shows promise, according to researchers.
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This barrier prevents germs and other harmful substances in the bloodstream from getting into the brain. But it also blocks medications for brain tumors and brain diseases such as Alzheimer's, the Associated Press reported.
Canadian scientists say a sound wave technology called focused ultrasound safely created openings in that barrier, and that those openings quickly closed.There were no serious side effects or worsening of mental function.
The early-stage research was conducted in six people with Alzheimer's disease and presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Chicago and published in the journal Nature Communications.
"It's been a major goal of neuroscience for decades, this idea of a safe and reversible and precise way of breaching the blood-brain barrier," said study leader Dr. Nir Lipsman, a neurosurgeon at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, the AP reported.
"It's exciting," Lipsman added.
The first study participant was Rick Karr, a retired truck driver who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2011, the AP reported.
"It's not painful or anything," he said.
Further research is needed but this approach is "definitely promising," Dr. Eliezer Masliah, U.S. National Institute on Aging, told the AP.
"What is remarkable is that they could do it in a very focused way, they can target a very specific brain region," said Masliah, who wasn't involved with the study.
A similar safety study is currently underway with Lou Gehrig's disease patients, and another study is assessing if the tool can boost the amount of chemotherapy that reaches a type of deadly brain tumor called glioblastoma, the AP reported.
"We don't want to broadly open the blood-brain barrier everywhere. We want to open the blood-brain barrier where we want the treatment to be delivered," said Dr. Graeme Woodworth of the University of Maryland Medical Center, who will lead an upcoming brain tumor study.
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