Researchers say they developed a biodegradable brain implant capable of helping to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to tumors.
Medscape News reported that the research marks another step toward using ultrasound to combat cancer. According to the team, led by Thanh Nguyen, these drugs can penetrate the blood-brain barrier to reach these brain tumors. Nguyen serves as lead author of the study and associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut.
The team used paclitaxel in its study, a drug that generally struggles to break through the blood-brain barrier. This blood vessel lining keeps molecules from passing from blood to brain, but can also prohibit chemotherapy from reaching cancer cells.
By implanting one-centimeter square devices into the skulls of mice, directly behind the tumor site, the researchers found a way to penetrate this. The implants generated ultrasound waves to loosen the barrier and allow the drugs to reach the tumor. Healthy tissue surrounding the area remained unharmed. It’s a similar approach to that being developed by France-based Carthera.
According to Medscape, the tumors in the mice shrank, while the rodents doubled their lifetime compared to untreated mice. They also showed no poor effects on health at six months follow-up.
“You inject the drug into the body and turn on the ultrasound at the same time. You’re going to hit precisely at the tumor area every single time you use it,” said Nguyen.
How the team created its biodegradable brain implant
Researchers made the implant from glycine, a piezoelectric amino acid. This material vibrates when exposed to electrical current. According to Medscape, the team collected glycine crystals, smashed them and used electrospinning to apply a high electrical voltage to the nanocrystals.
Glycine represents an upgrade on a previous effort from Nguyen, which saw a biodegradable implant break apart from the force. This material offers flexibility and stability in addition to its piezoelectric nature. Doctors can also control the implant’s lifespan.
Voltage travels to the implant from an external device, vibrating the cells in the blood-brain barrier. This stretches them and creates space for pores to form, letting in tiny particles, including chemo drugs. Additionally, this method could be utilized post-tumor removal surgery, The implant can continue treating residual cancer cells before dissolving over time.
Nguyen and the team intend to test the implant’s safety and efficacy in pigs. They eventually aim to develop a patch with a series of implants that can target different areas of the brain.