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Breaching the blood-brain barrier to create powerful new tools for fighting cancer
Date:7/27/2010

Troy, N.Y. One of the human body's most powerful defensive tools, the blood-brain barrier is a chemical labyrinth that prevents toxins and viruses in the bloodstream from reaching the brain. This foolproof security system, however, limits the ability of physicians to deliver drugs directly to the brain, making it difficult to treat brain tumors. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are endeavoring to solve this problem by investigating new methods for bypassing the blood-brain barrier and combating the spread of brain cancer.

The research team, led by Pankaj Karande, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, is particularly interested in developing treatments for diffuse malignant glioma, a lethal type of brain cancer for which there is currently no cure. He recently won a $100,000 grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation to further his study into this important topic.

"There are a number of good drugs available for treating glioma, but our problem is that getting any drug into the brain is a huge challenge," Karande said. "Nature designed the blood-brain barrier to protect us from harm, and it's very good at its job. When you attempt to treat patients with brain ailments, the blood-brain barrier recognizes most drugs as foreign molecules and keeps them out. We're trying to develop a method to elegantly, safely, and reproducibly open up the blood-brain barrier, so we can introduce drugs into the brain."

The blood-brain barrier is made up of protein-lined cells, which are layered together not unlike Velcro, Karande said. Generally, the only molecules that can pass through the barrier are certain nutrients and essential vitamins. His team is looking for a chemical "wedge" to pry a hole between layers, just large enough for drug molecules to breach the barrier and enter the brain. The hole would only stay open for a very short time, and then repair itself, thus posing very little risk of damage
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Contact: Michael Mullaney
mullam@rpi.edu
518-276-6161
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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