South Korean scientists said Thursday that they have developed a way to allow drugs to reach the brain that could lead to a safe and cheap treatment method for various neurological diseases.
A Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) team led by bio and brain engineering professor Choi Chul-hee said it had used an ultra-high frequency laser to temporarily weaken the “blood-brain barrier,” which permitted treatment drugs to reach unhealthy parts of the brain in laboratory tests.
The natural barrier protects the brain from contaminated blood, but it also makes it difficult to use drugs to treat brain-related diseases, like tumors. At present, doctors have to conduct operations to make holes in the skull or modify drugs so they can break the barrier.
Operations followed by direct drug injections can be very dangerous while modifying drugs makes them less effective.
Choi said tests showed that subjecting a blood vessel in the brain to a laser for just a millisecond weakens the blood-brain barrier. This procedure, which only lasts for a few minutes, is sufficient to get drugs to reach brain cells.
“This is a new approach that can overcome a key obstacle in brain illness-related treatment,” the scientist said.
He added that his team has acquired important know-how and plans to carry out clinical tests on patients in due time.
Technology developed by the KAIST team has been submitted for international intellectual property rights protection and has been published in this month’s issue of the U.S.-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.