An ion pump could overcome the difficulties of distributing drugs across the blood-brain barrier

Service Engineering

An ion pump, according to researchers at the Medical University of Graz in Austria and Linköping University in Sweden, could overcome the difficulties of distributing drugs across the blood-brain barrier, potentially improving the treatment of malignant brain tumours.

The scientists utilised cells from an aggressive and common type of cancer, glioblastoma, that transpires in the brain and published their results in Advance Materials Technologies.

“An ion pump could overcome the difficulties of distributing drugs across the blood-brain barrier.“

The researchers devised a method for an embedded ion pump to manoeuvre around the blood-brain barrier and deliver gemcitabine to the brain with pinpoint accuracy.

A low current is used to pump the positively charged medication into an ion transport channel while the ion pump is transporting gemcitabine from an electrolyte reservoir through cells or a tumour.

The low voltage and current means that eventual therapeutic technology will not require large batteries or power supplies to function.

Associate Professor at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at the Department of Science and Technology at Linköping University, Daniel Simon, stated: “This is the first time an ion pump has been tested as a possible method to treat malignant brain tumours. We used cancer cells in the lab and the results are extremely promising. However, it will probably take 5 to 10 years before we see this new technology used in treatments for brain tumours.”

Postdoctoral fellow at the Medical University of Graz, Linda Waldherr, stated: “The traditional glioblastoma treatment currently used in the clinics harms both cancer and neuronal cells to the same extent. However, with the gemcitabine ion pump, we tackle only the cancerous cells, while neurons stay healthy. In addition, our experiments on cultured glioblastoma cells show that more cancer cells are killed when we use the ion pump than when we use manual treatment.”

Associate professor at the Medical University of Graz, Rainer Schindl, stated: “The pressure inside the brain is extremely sensitive and using an ion pump to transport the drug instead of a fluid-driven device means that the pressure is not affected. Also, the dosage is controlled by electrical charging, which makes the supply of the chemotherapy agent extremely precise. The next step will be to use the ion pump to evaluate different chemotherapy agents that have previously given adverse effects that are too serious or that are unable to pass the blood-brain barrier.”

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