Scientists Fight Cancer by Breaching Brain’s Protective Layer

brain-951847_1280A team of Canadian doctors were able to pull off a medical first, breaching the human brain’s protective barrier to fight cancer and deliver needed medication.

Doctors from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre made use of small gas-filled bubbles injected into a patient’s bloodstream to bore temporary holes into the barrier separating blood from the brain. They then administered ultrasound waves to the patient’s skull, allowing the bubbles to vibrate and make their way to the brain and also allowing them to deliver chemotherapy drugs. This novel procedure turned out to be successful, though there will be six to ten more patients to undergo the same operation as part of the team’s medical trial.

The blood-brain barrier prevents harmful bacteria and toxins from reaching the central nervous system. But the barrier also prevents drugs from traveling into the brain, which the Sunnybrook doctors circumvented by ripping temporary holes into this barrier, allowing chemotherapy drugs to pass through safely.

The method was tested on 56-year-old Bonny Hall, who was recently advised that after eight years of medication, her cancerous brain tumor was growing, thus requiring more aggressive therapy that could really target the cancer. She had then agreed to be the first patient to try the Sunnybrook therapy, and after the procedure was carried out, brain scans indicate that everything went just as expected. Researchers will then examine a small part of Hall’s tumor, which would be removed surgically after the therapy, to see how well the chemotherapy drugs had passed through the blood-brain barrier.

Medical professionals see this process to be a potential breakthrough, as it allows doctors to administer powerful drugs that wouldn’t work when administered normally. This technique, they note, could also be used for other brain-related diseases aside from cancer, including dementia and Parkinson’s disease. However, more studies may be needed to establish the safety of the procedure. Animals have been operated on without any problem, but it’s yet to be known whether there may or may not be side effects, or if the treatment would actually work on a consistent basis.