Brain and Body

Scientists Developed a Less-Invasive Technology to Deliver Drugs to Brain Injuries

June 29, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Brain scans
Photo credit: © Maxim Pavlov / Fotolia

It was just awarded a grant by the National Science Foundation. 

Thanks to scientists at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP), we may be headed towards a new and less invasive way to treat traumatic brain injuries.

Publishing their work in Nature Communications, the team describes a new technology that provides an alternate way of sending drugs or nanoparticles to injured areas in the brain.

"We have found a peptide sequence of four amino acids, cysteine, alanine, glutamine, and lysine (CAQK), that recognizes injured brain tissue," senior author Erkki Ruoslahti, a professor in SBP's NCI-Designated Cancer Center, said in a press release. "This peptide could be used to deliver treatments that limit the extent of damage."

According to the researchers, the current interventions for acute brain injury aim to stabilize the patient by maintaining blood flow and reducing intracranial pressure. However, there are no approved drugs to prevent the “cascade of events that cause secondary injury,” says postdoc researcher Aman Mann, and this can lead to continued damage of brain cells and blood vessels over the following hours or days after initial injury.

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"Our goal was to find an alternative to directly injecting therapeutics into the brain, which is invasive and can add complications," explained Ruoslahti.

"Using this peptide to deliver drugs means they could be administered intravenously, but still reach the site of injury in sufficient quantities to have an effect."

The CAQK peptide works by binding to components of the meshwork surrounding the brain, called chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) — CSPGs are involved in critical cell processes like cell growth and adhesion. Following brain injury, the amounts of these large proteins increase.

"Not only did we show that CAQK carries drug-sized molecules and nanoparticles to damaged areas in mouse models of acute brain injury, we also tested peptide binding to injured human brain samples and found the same selectivity," said Mann.

In the research, the scientists conclude that their results “open up brain injuries for nanomedicine-based therapeutic approaches.”

Given the fact that about 2.5 million people in the US sustain brain injuries each year — largely due to car crashes, falls, and violence — this new technology could serve to benefit many.

The technology has already been licensed by a startup company, called AivoCode, and the company was recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to help along the development and commercialization of the new technology.

Plus, the technology’s benefits may even surpass brain injuries. The team is currently testing the applications of their findings on animal models to determine whether the success would translate over to other central nervous system (CNS) injuries, like spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis (MS).

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