More than 100 years ago it was discovered that when blue dye was injected into the bloodstream of an animal, the blood vessels of the whole body EXCEPT the brain and spinal cord would turn blue, according to University of Washington (UW) in St. Louis. The same was seen in reverse – when the dye was put into the brain and spinal cord, it appeared trapped, and did not spread to other blood vessels in the body.
This is how scientists came to learn about the ‘Blood-Brain-Barrier’ (BBB), which controls the brain microenvironment and limits materials in the blood from entering the brain. This becomes a barrier for many medical imaging and treatment procedures, according to the Journal of Nanobiotechnology.
Despite better technology and breakthroughs in medicine, one problem that has stumped researchers recently is – how can we pass important, often life-saving drugs through the BBB to deliver treatments straight to the brain?
UW researchers may have found a way – and it involves gold.
So far, the technology has only been tested on locusts, which are known to have a BBB that is similar to humans. Gold nanoparticles were created with specific size, shape, electrical charge and fluorescent tags for tracking their movement inside the locusts.
The gold nanoparticles were sprayed onto the locusts’ antennas. The researchers observed the gold’s movement via the fluorescent tags as it moved through the nerves, past the BBB and into the brain of the locust. This was a major breakthrough and allowed researchers to speculate on what this means for the future.
The next step for the researchers of UW is to figure out a way to attach actual drugs, such as cancer treatments, to these gold particles. If successful, eventually, brain-targeting drugs, such as certain cancer drugs could be administered through nasal sprays.