Implantable ion pump delivers cancer drugs directly to the brain
Brain cancers are notoriously challenging to treat, often involving invasive surgeries to remove tumors from sensitive tissue. But the trouble doesn't end there, with malignant cells often sticking around and leading to recurrence of the disease down the track. Scientists at Sweden's Linköping University have developed a new tool to tackle these risky remnants of malignant tumors, demonstrating how an ion pump can take highly effective chemotherapy drugs directly to the source of the problem.
When cancerous cells are left over following surgical removal of a brain tumor, they can become lodged in the healthy tissue and are very difficult to extract. This means doctors turn to radiation treatment and chemotherapy to remove them, but this invites the risk of a whole lot of side effects, while many chemotherapy drugs are halted by the highly selective and semi-permeable blood-brain barrier, which stops many substances from entering the organ.
The authors of this new study see a solution in what's known as an implantable ion pump. These are made from biologically compatible materials and can regulate the transport of ions into and out of cells. We have previously seen these Linköping University scientists develop an ion pump that can stimulate the body's natural pain-relieving neurotransmitters, as a way of treating chronic pain, and they're now turning their attention to brain cancer.
In experiments on brain cancer cells in the lab, a highly effective, positively charged chemotherapy agent called gemcitabine was loaded into an electrolyte reservoir. The team's ion pump was then able to push it through an ion transport channel directly into the cells, where gemcitabine went to work disrupting the cell division process synonymous with the growing tumor. This sidesteps the blood-brain barrier issue, and also leaves healthy brain cells unaffected.
"The traditional glioblastoma treatment currently used in the clinics harms both cancer and neuronal cells to the same extent," says study author Linda Waldherr, from the Medical University of Graz. "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."
The researchers now hope to use the ion pump technology to explore how chemotherapy drugs that have been discounted in the past, due to being blocked by the blood-brain barrier blockage or causing nasty side effects, might now be viable for use. While the technology has only been demonstrated in the lab so far, the researchers are excited by these early results, although they are under no illusions regarding the long road to clinical use.
"This is the first time an ion pump has been tested as a possible method to treat malignant brain tumors," says Linköping University's Daniel Simon. "We used cancer cells in the lab, and the results are extremely promising. However, it will probably take five to 10 years before we see this new technology used in treatments for brain tumors."
The research was published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.
Source: Linköping University