Health and Medicine Neuroscience

Overcoming the Blood-Brain Barrier Using Laser Technology

Laser glioblastoma

Finally there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the patients suffering from glioblastoma – a deadly form of brain cancer.

A team of neurosurgeons from the Washington University School of Medicine has successfully negotiated the blood-brain barrier to deliver chemotherapy drugs to glioblastoma patients using a minimally invasive laser therapy.

The pilot study using laser therapy was conducted on a group of 14 glioblastoma patients and the initial outcome seems to be promising. The procedure involved robotically inserting the laser using an incision of just 3 millimeters.  Using an MRI scanner, the doctors get a real-time look at how the tumors react to the laser beam. On a par with the doctors’ expectations, heat from the laser was able to destroy the malignant cells. However as an added bonus, the neurosurgeons also noticed that the laser technology can even penetrate the blood-brain barrier, enabling chemotherapy drugs to reach the cancer affected cells in the brain.

The blood-brain barrier is a dynamic interface that separates the brain from the circulatory system. The main responsibility of the barrier is to protect the central nervous system from potentially harmful chemicals. While the blood-brain barrier is essentially a protecting shield against toxins, it also inadvertently resists the chemotherapy drugs – making it a challenging situation for the doctors.

Earlier attempts to breach the blood-brain barrier resulted in leaving it open for a time-frame of around 24 hours – which was insufficient to apply multiple dosages of chemotherapy successively. The laser therapy, in comparison, could leave the barrier open for up to six weeks – providing the doctors ample time to undertake repeated chemotherapy procedures. Most importantly, the laser only opens the barrier near the affected cells, without affecting the protecting interface in other parts of the brain. This could prevent the chemotherapy drugs from causing damages to the non-affected areas.

The laser technology used in the study was approved by the US FDA in 2009, but it was the first time the technique was successfully implemented to unlock the blood-brain barrier. The findings could be crucial because most chemotherapy drugs can’t get past the protective interface of the brain, greatly reducing the treatment options for patients with glioblastoma and other forms of brain cancer.

Now the doctors are all geared up for the second phase of this clinical trial in a larger scale. The plan is to combine the laser technology with chemotherapy in a bid to maximize the potential benefits. They are hopeful that the pioneering approach will open up new dimensions for treating the carcinogens responsible for causing brain cancer.

Study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.