Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New Non-Invasive Technique Controls Size of Molecules Penetrating the Blood-Brain Barrier


Innovative ultrasound approach uses acoustic pressure to let molecules through—may help treatment for central nervous system diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s

A new technique developed by Elisa Konofagou, professor of biomedical engineering and radiology at Columbia Engineering, has demonstrated for the first time that the size of molecules penetrating the blood-brain barrier (BBB) can be controlled using acoustic pressure—the pressure of an ultrasound beam—to let specific molecules through. The study was published in the July issue of the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism.

Image courtesy of Elisa Konofagou, associate professor of biomedical engineering and radiology, Columbia Engineering

Damage analysis of BBB-opened brain regions: Histological examination of (A, C) left (BBB-opened) and (B, D) corresponding right (no ultrasound) hippocampi. No microscopic tissue damage was observed in the BBB-opened hippocampus at 0.51 MPa (A), same as in the intact right hippocampus on the same section (B). Minor microhemorrhage is noticeable in one location (box) in the hippocampus sonicated at 0.84 MPa (C), compared to no damage in nonsonicated hippocampus (D). The insert shows magnified image of the region in the box. Scale bar represents 1 mm.

“This is an important breakthrough in getting drugs delivered to specific parts of the brain precisely, non-invasively, and safely, and may help in the treatment of central nervous system diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,” says Konofagou, whose National Institutes of Health Research Project Grant (R01) funding was just renewed for another four years for an additional $2.22 million. The award is for research to determine the role of the microbubble in controlling both the efficacy and safety of drug safety through the BBB with a specific application for treating Parkinson’s disease.

Most small—and all large—molecule drugs do not currently penetrate the blood-brain barrier that sits between the vascular bed and the brain tissue. “As a result,” Konofagou explains, “all central nervous system diseases remain undertreated at best. For example, we know that Parkinson’s disease would benefit by delivery of therapeutic molecules to the neurons so as to impede their slow death. But because of the virtually impermeable barrier, these drugs can only reach the brain through direct injection and that requires anesthesia and drilling the skull while also increasing the risk of infection and limiting the number of sites of injection. And transcranial injections rarely work—only about one in ten is successful.”

Focused ultrasound in conjunction with microbubbles—gas-filled bubbles coated by protein or lipid shells—continues to be the only technique that can permeate the BBB safely and non-invasively. When microbubbles are hit by an ultrasound beam, they start oscillating and, depending on the magnitude of the pressure, continue oscillating or collapse. While researchers have found that focused ultrasound in combination with microbubble cavitation can be successfully used in the delivery of therapeutic drugs across the BBB, almost all earlier studies have been limited to one specific-sized agent that is commercially available and widely used clinically as ultrasound contrast agents. Konofagou and her team were convinced there was a way to induce a size-controllable BBB opening, enabling a more effective method to improve localized brain drug delivery.

Konofagou targeted the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain, and administered different-sized sugar molecules (Dextran). She found that higher acoustic pressures led to larger molecules accumulating into the hippocampus as confirmed by fluorescence imaging. This demonstrated that the pressure of the ultrasound beam can be adjusted depending on the size of the drug that needs to be delivered to the brain: all molecules of variant sizes were able to penetrate the opened barrier but at distinct pressures, i.e., small molecules at lower pressures and larger molecules at higher pressures.

“Through this study, we’ve been able to show, for the first time, that we can control the BBB opening size through the use of acoustic pressure,” says Konofagou. “We’ve also learned much more about the physical mechanisms associated with the trans-BBB delivery of different-sized agents, and understanding the BBB mechanisms will help us to develop agent size-specific focused ultrasound treatment protocols.”

Konofagou and her Ultrasound Elasticity Imaging Laboratory team plan to continue to work on the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in a range of models, and hope to test their technique in clinical trials within the next five years.

“It is frightening to think that in the 21st century we still have no idea now to treat most brain diseases,” Konofagou adds. “But we’re really excited because we now have a tool that could potentially change the current dire predictions that come with a neurological disorder diagnosis.”

Contact Information

Holly Evarts
Director of Strategic Communications and Media Rel
Phone: 212-854-3206
Mobile: 347-453-7408

Holly Evarts | newswise

Further reports about: BBB Barrier Blood-Brain Molecules Parkinson’s acoustic diseases drugs pressures

More articles from Medical Engineering:

nachricht Gentle sensors for diagnosing brain disorders
29.09.2016 | King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

nachricht New imaging technique in Alzheimer’s disease - opens up possibilities for new drug development
28.09.2016 | Lund University

All articles from Medical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>