Gel patch may one day deliver MS drugs through the nose into the brain
Getting traditionally administered drugs into the brain can be challenging, due to the body's protective blood-brain barrier. There may be new hope, however, in the form of a patch that gets shoved up the patient's nose.
The blood-brain barrier is generally a good thing, as it helps keep pathogens in the bloodstream from entering the brain. Unfortunately, though, it also limits the effectiveness of orally or intravenously administered medications – along with nasal sprays – that are used to treat brain disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
That's where the Nose2Brain (or N2B) patch is designed to come in. It was developed via a European Union project involving 11 partner organizations in eight countries, coordinated by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology. Although it's intended initially for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, it could conceivably also be applied to other brain problems.
The patch itself takes the form of a small slab of hydrogel, which is loaded with an MS drug. Utilizing a special applicator device, a clinician would insert that patch up the patient's nose, applying it to the olfactory mucosa membrane in the upper region of the nasal cavity.
Once in place, the patch would gradually release the medication, which would travel a short distance through the membrane and the underlying porous ethmoid bone, then into the brain and the central nervous system. In animal tests conducted so far, the patch has been shown to effectively deliver drugs into the brain while not affecting the recipient's sense of smell, nor introducing germs into the nose or harming the nasal microbiome.
As an added bonus, the patch could be stored for up to several weeks at room temperature. And after being inserted, a single patch would likely be able to deliver medication for up to two weeks, after which another patch would have to be applied.
The N2B-patch research project launched in 2017, and wraps up later this month. A patent has now been filed on the technology, although Fraunhofer states that the patch "is still some time away from approval" for use on patients. In the meantime, its suitability for the treatment of conditions other than MS is being investigated further.