Raw Story reported Tuesday on a new technique pioneered by researchers at Florida International University for treating HIV by acting directly on the brain, delivering medicine across the blood-brain barrier through the use of nanoparticles. Wednesday, we spoke to Florida International University researcher Sakhrat Khizroev about the breakthrough and its potential for treatment of other brain diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and brain cancers.
"Crossing the blood-brain barrier using nanoparticles is not a new thing," explained Khizroev. "Our discovery involved using the latest nanoparticles, called magneto-electric particles." These particles utilize quantum mechanics to couple fields of magnetic and electric energy without generating heat.
The FIU team's approach uses magnetic energy to manipulate the electrical charges of those particles once they are inside the brain. Khizroev and the research team loaded the nanoparticles with the drug AZTTP, then signaled them to release the drug directly at the site of infected tissue.
"These are very unique particles," said Khizroev, in that "you can control the electrical properties using magnetic forces."
The blood-brain barrier is a protective barrier that blocks certain substances from entering the brain. It's a defense mechanism that protects the brain from blood-borne poisons and contaminants, but which also keeps certain drugs and medicines from being able to act directly on the brain, hindering physicians' ability to treat brain diseases like Alzheimer's and invaders like HIV, which can pool in the brain, beyond the reach of anti-retroviral drugs.
Once the particles are in the brain, he said, "we see them and we can also control them. They are magnetic components that we can move around. And on top of it, we can control the electric force right next to them. Electric forces define everything in the body."
Electrical forces bind the drug -- AZTTP in this study -- to the nanoparticles in the form of ionic bonds. The scientists use magnetic energy to reverse the polarity of those bonds, releasing the medicine.
Previous attempts with less efficient particles, Khizroev said, were unsuccessful because the particles could not release the drugs on command. Older, less efficient nanoparticles required much higher levels of magnetism to accomplish less in terms of the particle's response, creating an energy imbalance that the particles gave off as heat, which would damage brain tissue if used in a patient.
"In our case, because we used quantum mechanical particles, in those particles, magnetic and electric forces are coupled at close to 100 percent efficiency," Khizroev said. "The process of release is extremely efficient. We don't need high magnetic fields to trigger the process. That's a big advantage."
With the new approach, a patient could be injected with nanoparticles in their physician's office, then be exposed to a hand-held magnetic coil positioned about a centimeter away from the skull. The doctor would use the magnet to direct the medicine-bearing particles across the blood-brain barrier, then change their electrical polarity, signaling them to release the drug with no need for a large, bulky MRI machine or other large magnets.
"The beauty of it is that it's an extremely energy-efficient process," he said.
With the ability to apply medicines directly to specific, previously inaccessible regions of the brain comes a whole panoply of new treatment options for a myriad of brain diseases. The potential for new treatment options for heretofore unbeatable illnesses like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's is staggering, Khizroev said.
"Now we are in control of electric forces and magnetic forces, and our whole body is electric forces," he said, "a vast, complex electric circuit, especially the brain."
"Now we can bring the drug right inside the tumor cells without affecting the healthy cells in brain cancers," he continued, saying that the team has completed a series of experiments in mice. Currently, they are preparing to continue research on primates at Emory University in Atlanta.
President Barack Obama, Khizroev noted, said that the nation's primary research thrust should be in understanding and mapping the brain.
"It's in synch with what we are doing," he said, enthusiasm growing. "We will be able to read the mind!"
"I am joking of course, but I think that everything is possible, you know?" he concluded. "Everything is possible, step by step. I actually believe that we will be able to do that one day."
[image via Shutterstock.com]