Swarms of nanoparticles that are 15,000 times smaller than a pin head may be able to deliver vital drugs to the brain, offering new hope to patients in the early stages of a stroke.
The research, conducted at the University of Manchester, shows that tiny vesicles called liposomes, only 100 nanometers in diameter, can move through the hematoencephalic barrier damaged by stroke.
And this can offer a way to get vital injury medications to stop further damage.
The brain is the only organ to have its own safety system: a dense network of blood vessels and barriers that allow the entry of essential nutrients blocking other potentially harmful substances.
However, the barrier also blocks life-saving drugs, making it difficult to treat a number of conditions including the stroke.
Now the research conducted on mice is published today in the journal ACS Nano, shows that liposomes can potentially carry life-saving drugs across the barrier.
The researchers were able to generate microscopic images of brain tissue using cutting-edge imaging techniques, demonstrating that the nanomaterial is a viable transporter.
So far, scientists have not yet come up with a reliable way to effectively deliver damaged brain to the brain, one of the latest frontiers in medical science.
But now the team shows that following a stroke event, liposomes are able to penetrate the brain by transporting tightly packed endothelial cells using bag-like structures known as caveolae.
This means that doctors may one day be able to protect tissues in the acute stages of a stroke by providing drugs – still under development – that can protect brain neurons from further injury.
In the days following a stroke, when brain cells – or neurons – died, researchers showed that liposomes can also penetrate the brain to help promote neuron repair.
Liposomes are lipids that are long chains of oily or waxy organic molecules present in all living beings.
Stuart Allan, professor of Neuroscience at the University of Manchester, said: "The discovery that nanomaterials may be able to facilitate the treatment of stroke is exciting: scientists have long struggled with difficulties in the treatment of brain injuries and diseases ".
"The blood-brain barrier is one of the main frontiers of neurology, so the prospect of being able to cross it could also have applications in other conditions – although clearly, much more work needs to be done."
Dr. Zahraa Al-Ahmady, honorary researcher at the University of Manchester and senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, said: "Liposomes are a tried and tested method of delivering drugs to the body – and they are currently used to treat patients, for example, to target anticancer drugs in cancer at high doses that increase their concentration compared to other parts of the body. "
"They are easy to manufacture and used throughout the NHS. But our research shows that liposomes also have important implications for neurologists."
Professor Kostas Kostarelos, president of Nanomedicine at the University of Manchester, said: "This discovery is an important milestone in the use of liposomes for the umpteenth debilitating disease, such as stroke. . Liposomes have had a huge impact in offering treatment options in oncology, vaccination, lung and skin diseases since they were first discovered by the British hematologist Alec Bangham, FRS in 1965. "
The document "Selective liposomal transport through the breaking of the blood-brain barrier in the ischemic stroke reveals two distinct therapeutic opportunities" is available here
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