Scientists find new way to get drugs past ‘blood-brain barrier’

Scientists have found a new way to transport medicine into the brain, which they hope could lead to improved treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s in the future.

Experts from Newcastle University have engineered small particles from a peptide that can carry and deliver drugs to the brain without “adverse reactions and toxicity”.

A protective layer known as the blood-brain barrier (BBB) excludes the majority of drugs from reaching blood capillaries in the brain.

However, some viruses have found ways to bypass the barrier, and medication for certain neurological diseases uses modified versions of these to deliver the drugs.

Current treatments involve difficulties in safely “packaging” these viruses and the drugs are usually delivered via injection into the cerebrospinal fluid.

The scientists’ advance uses a peptide component from a virus that forms a “small, hairy particle” when added to water and is administered via intravenous injection.

They found that the developed particles targeted the brains of mice by crossing the blood-brain barrier, reaching neurons and other cells.

Professor Moein Moghimi, who led the research, said: “Crossing the blood-brain barrier has hindered the industry from effectively addressing central nervous system diseases, including brain tumours, and many neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

“This breakthrough – based on more than 10 years of research – has significant implications for crossing BBB and other biological barriers that have created challenges for drug delivery.

“Our breakthrough allows for minimally invasive combination delivery through an intravenous injection of various drugs, peptides and nucleic acid therapeutics to the brain.”

 Self-assembly of a peptide to ‘hairy-like particles’ that target the brain on intravenous injection (Newcastle University/PA)
Self-assembly of a peptide to ‘hairy-like particles’ that target the brain on intravenous injection (Newcastle University/PA)

The scientists hope this could lead the way to safer treatment of neurological and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntingdon’s.

Professor Moghimi added: “We are very excited by our research – our delivery system is versatile and amenable to modifications, so, in principle, we can hopefully address shortfalls in drug delivery to the brain through intravenous injection.

“We have a long way to go, but we hope that our technology platform may open up many opportunities to address neurodegenerative diseases with modern therapeutics and genetic drugs.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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