Cancer is oftentimes viewed as the most difficult health condition to treat, and this problem becomes amplified when it occurs in the most complex organ in our body – the brain. When malignant tumors are found in the brain region, the average life expectancy is only about 14 months from diagnosis, even when aggressive treatments are used.
The reason why treating brain cancer is so difficult is due in part to the complex nature of the brain. Our brains have a network of blood vessels and tissue called the blood-brain barrier that helps keep foreign substances out of the area. This makes it hard for doctors to deliver treatments to the specific sites in the brain without portions of the drug being filtered out by the barrier. However, hope is on the horizon as neuroscientists have reason to believe they’ve found a way to deliver significant doses of medication past this blood-brain barrier and to the malignant tumor location.
Nanoparticles Tumor Treatment
Nanoparticles are microscopically small particles that are smaller than a wavelength of visible light and can only be viewed with special amplification technology. They are so small that they have the potential to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Researchers believe these tiny particles can act as the body’s form of a drug smuggler – carrying necessary drugs past the blood brain barrier without being filtered out. They were created such that the body believes they are an essential amino acid, which pass safely through this barrier.
But getting past this area is only half the battle. Once the drug is past this barrier, it needs to know where to deliver the drugs. If you’re delivering a pizza and you have only been told that it needs to be delivered to “Mr. Smith,” you’re not going to have much luck with your quest unless you can find out where Mr. Smith lives. However, the nanoparticles created in Yale labs have been engineered to recognize a molecule that is present in many tumors and deliver itself to that location for release. Essentially, the nanoparticle itself can figure out where it is supposed to go once it successfully crosses the border, or in our above example, the pizza would know how to find Mr. Smith without the help of the delivery driver.
These nanoparticles are like GPS-guided missiles looking for a molecule called LAT1. This molecule is present in many tumors, but not in most other other healthy organs.
“There’s usually a GPS on every missile to guide it into a specific location and we’re able to guide particles to penetrate the brain and find tumors,” said Jiangbing Zhou, PhD, associate Professor of Neurosurgery and of Biomedical Engineering at Yale School of Medicine.
Moreover, these nanoparticles can be designed to emit a fluorescence upon stimulation, making it easier for surgeons to locate and remove the tumor. The nanoparticle therapy has been successful in trials involving mice, and while there are still plenty of hurdles to clear before it could be seen as a reliable drug delivery option for humans, there is hope on the horizon for patients with malignant brain tumors.
“It takes a long time before the technology can be translated into clinical applications,” said Dr. Zhou. “But this finding suggests a new direction for developing nanoparticles for drug delivery to the brain by targeting LAT1 molecules.”
Hopefully the science continues to move in the right direction and we eventually find new ways to better treat patients with complex brain tumors.