Dodging the border agency of the brain

Photo from Wikipedia. Click for sourceI just noticed that neurotechnology analyst Zack Lynch has a forthcoming article in Epilepsy and Behavior on the latest developments in the commercial brain science field. Avid neuroscience fans may be familiar with most of it but the section on new technologies to cross the blood-brain barrier was eye-opening.

The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a sieve-like border crossing that allows only certain molecules to pass from the blood into the brain.

It’s remarkably restrictive and many molecules are just too big to get past, meaning that many drugs that could affect the brain are virtually useless, simply because they can’t cross the border.

This has led neuroscientists to think of ways of smuggling, tunnelling and sneaking this these molecules past the barrier, and Lynch’s article lists some of the latest technologies which aim to jump the fence.

• Implantable devices: Implantable pumps bypass the blood–brain barrier (BBB) and deliver highly accurate amounts of drugs to specific sites in the brain or spinal cord.

• Expression systems: A French company is circumventing the BBB using encapsulated cell technology (ECT), a polymer implant containing cells that provide continuous, long-term release of the therapeutic protein to the brain or eye.

• Receptor-mediated transport: Receptors that transport nutrients to the brain from the blood can be tricked into transporting therapeutic chemicals, peptides, and proteins across the BBB. Insulin, transferrin, and lipoproteins, for example, cross the BBB by facilitated transport, and can be combined with therapeutic proteins or other molecules to promote access to the brain.

• Cell-penetrating peptides: During the past decade, several arginine-rich peptides have been described, such as SynB vectors, which allow for intracellular delivery and BBB transport. The mechanism for this transport is unknown. A Swiss company is using cell-penetrating peptides to develop treatments for stroke and myocardial infarction.

• Focused ultrasound: Some research shows that focused ultrasound can temporarily open the BBB in a targeted area for a window of time. A seed stage company is working to commercialize this technology and improve it for use in humans.

• Nanoparticle formulations: Nanoparticle formulations refer to therapeutics encapsulated in nanoscale particles that can pass the BBB. Although there is great interest in using nanotechnology to improve neuropharmaceutical delivery to the brain, it will take some time to overcome challenges of this platform, including the need for intravenous delivery, manufacturing, and clearance by the liver.

Link to summary of article.

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