Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have developed a method for concentrating and releasing drugs in the brain with pinpoint accuracy. This could make it possible to deliver psychiatric drugs and other medications to specific areas of the brain where this is medically desirable.
Until now, that has been almost impossible. Drugs administered through the bloodstream often reach the entire brain and body, which may cause unwanted side effects. This new method is non-invasive, with precise drug delivery into the brain controlled from outside the head using ultrasound.
Professor of Neurotechnology Mehmet Fatih Yanik and his team published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
“Non-invasive, molecularly-specific, focal modulation of brain circuits with low off-target effects can lead to breakthroughs in treatments of brain disorders. We systemically inject engineered ultrasound-controllable drug carriers and subsequently apply a novel two-component Aggregation and Uncaging Focused Ultrasound Sequence (AU-FUS) at the desired targets inside the brain,” wrote the researchers.
“Because our method aggregates drugs at the site in the brain where their effect is desired, we don’t need nearly as high a dose,” Professor Yanik said. In their animal experiments, the applied dosage used was significantly smaller than typically needed.
“Our approach uses orders of magnitude (1300×) less drug than is otherwise required by systemic injection and requires very low ultrasound pressures (20-fold below FDA safety limits for diagnostic imaging). We show that the BBB [blood brain barrier] remains intact using passive cavitation detection (PCD), MRI-contrast agents and, importantly, also by sensitive fluorescent dye extravasation and immunohistochemistry.”
Scientists are now testing the effectiveness of their method in animal models of mental illness. These studies include reducing anxiety, treating neurological disorders, and targeting lethal brain tumors that are surgically inaccessible.
If confirmed, this method could have a significant impact on the treatment of mood and substance use disorders (SUDs). Severe SUD is frequently driven by mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and unresolved trauma—especially childhood trauma. More effective treatment methods of psychological and neurological disorders with fewer psychoactive drugs could also play a significant role in modern evidence-based approaches to addiction treatment.
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