New findings show scientists are developing novel ways to bypass the blood-brain barrier (BBB), a network of blood vessels that prevents more than 95 percent of all chemicals from entering the brain from the bloodstream. The findings, presented at Neuroscience 2009, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health, could form another step toward treating brain disorders and conditions affecting the central nervous system.

While the BBB protects the brain from harmful chemicals, bacteria, and other substances, it poses a significant problem for the delivery of drugs for hard-to-treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and brain cancer. Researchers describe new methods for transporting drugs across the BBB as well as ways to enhance the brain’s own immune response, which is separated from the body’s immune system by the BBB. Additional research describes new roles for the BBB in neurodegenerative disease and the behavioral and cognitive effects of the immune system, despite its physical separation from the central nervous system.

The studies show that:

• Scientists have developed a new delivery system to shuttle drugs across the BBB by hijacking a known protein transport system. This scientific advance potentially allows researchers to develop therapies for hard-to-treat brain diseases (Jean-Paul Castaigne, MD, abstract 185.1).

• In preliminary reports from a clinical trial, a new drug designed to cross the BBB has helped reduce tumor growth in people with gliomas, the most common form of brain cancer (Jan Drappatz, MD, abstract 185.6).

Other recent research findings discussed during the meeting show that:

• Although it is separated from the central nervous system by the BBB, the immune system affects emotionality and cognition (Katherine Nautiyal, see attached speaker’s summary).

• The BBB and cells in the brain that are not nerve cells may be involved in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The findings may offer new avenues for future research and therapies (Berislav Zlokovic, MD, PhD, see attached speaker’s summary).

• New research suggests ways to combat diseases like Alzheimer’s disease by boosting the brain’s immune response, which is separated from the body’s immune system by the BBB (Serge Rivest, PhD, see attached speaker’s summary).

“The development of novel ways to cross the blood-brain barrier has considerable potential for treating a host of debilitating and prevalent diseases and disorders,” said press conference moderator John Kessler, MD, of Northwestern University, an expert in stem cell biology and regenerative neuroscience. “Scientific discoveries like those announced today lead to a better understanding of the complexities of the human brain and nervous system and highlight the importance of additional research in this area.”

This research was supported by national funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations.

Release date: October 18, 2009

Source: Society for Neuroscience