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Brain-Therapy Technique Uses Ultrasound, MRI

March 15, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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A new technique for getting drugs past the blood-brain barrier involves both ultrasound and MRI.

Toronto researchers injected microbubbles of lipids and gas into the bloodstream. When the microbubbles reached the brain, the researchers used focused ultrasound to make the microbubbles expand and contract. That apparently causes the cells that form the blood-brain barrier to separate temporarily, allowing drugs to pass from the bloodstream into the brain.

Contrast-enhanced MRI confirms that the temporary breaches have opened and times how long it takes for them to close. That, the researchers said, will be important when the technique reaches clinical use.

And clinical trials, at least, aren’t far off, according to lead author Meaghan O’Reilly of Toronto’s Sunnybrook Research Institute:

It’s getting close to the point where this could be done safely in humans. There is a push towards applications.

O’Reilly was quoted in a news release from the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which published the study on Tuesday. JoVE includes video with all of its content. In this case, the video shows exactly how the researchers tested their technique on rats.

“Because the actual technique can be challenging—there are critical steps involved—the video article fills a gap in the literature that is a major hindrance to people getting into the field,” O’Reilly said.

The technique could open new possibilities for treating such brain conditions as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Current methods for making the blood-brain barrier permeable involve using osmotic agents to remove water from the cells that form the barrier.

That opens large areas of the barrier, potentially allowing toxins to cross into the brain along with the therapeutic drugs. The ultrasound/MRI technique opens small, targeted areas of the barrier, making it safer.

“Microbubble technology has been around for years, though its applications have mostly been as contrast agents for diagnostic ultrasound,” said Beth Hovey, PhD, editorial director for JoVE. “This newer approach, using ultrasound to help the bubbles permeablize the blood-brain barrier, will hopefully allow for better treatment of diseases within the brain.”

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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