Ultrasound unlocks blood-brain barrier in cancer clinical trial

A neurologist reviews brain scans
A new study builds on earlier efforts to show the ultrasound has direct therapeutic effects. (Getty Images/Chinnapong)

Researchers have advanced the age-old effort to overcome the blood-brain barrier with clinical trial data suggesting ultrasound can temporarily enable molecules past the blockade.

The clinical trial enrolled patients with suspected infiltrating glioma, a common type of brain tumor. Participants received MRI-guided, high-powered ultrasound focused to a small point. The approach is intended to temporarily open up the blood-brain barrier to enable a therapeutic to reach target cells. Earlier work has pointed to the potential for the approach to safely open up the barrier.

In the latest study, details of which were reported in PNAS, the application of the approach to tissue was associated with an increase in the accumulation of a synthetic coloring agent. Tissue hit with the ultrasound had a 2.2-fold increase of accumulation of the agent.  

“This study demonstrates the capabilities of [transcranial microbubble-enhanced MRI-guided focused ultrasound] for safe, localized, controlled [blood-brain barrier] opening and highlights the potential of this technology to improve the surgical and pharmacologic treatment of brain tumors,” the authors of the paper concluded.

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InSightec, the sponsor of the clinical trial, is running other studies to assess the ability of the method to affect the blood-brain barrier. One study is evaluating the effect of disrupting the barrier on brain cancer patients undergoing treatment with the chemotherapy treatment carboplatin. Another trial is administering the ultrasound to patients with probable Alzheimer’s disease.  

The studies build on earlier efforts to show the ultrasound has direct therapeutic effects as opposed to facilitating pharmacological interventions. InSightec provides the technology in the treatment of conditions including essential tremor.