A team of researchers at Florida International University's Herbert Wertheim School of Medicine has found a way to deliver anti-AIDS medicine directly to the brain using nanoparticles. According to the Miami Herald, two scientists, a physicist and a professor of  immunology and engineering have found "a new pathway" for medicines to the brain, allowing treatment of HIV and possibly paving the way for new treatments for other neurological diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and brain cancers.

The blood-brain barrier is one of the last great hurdles in internal medicine, a filter in the bloodstream that keeps drugs or contaminants in the blood from directly flowing into the brain. Madhavan Nair of FIU's department of immunology said of the new breakthrough, "Anything where you have trouble getting drugs to the brain and releasing it, this opens so many opportunities."

In an “in vitro laboratory test with HIV-positive cells,” Nair and colleague Sakhrat Khizroev attached the anti-retroviral drug AZTTP to magneto-electric nanoparticles. They then used magnetic energy to guide the particles across a lab-made cell membrane designed to mimic the blood-brain barrier.

Khizroev, who designed, directed and oversaw the experiment, told the Herald, "We learned to control electrical forces in the brain using magnetics. We pretty much opened a pathway to the brain.’’

Researchers believe this will enable them to improve the performance of AZTTP on the brain by up to 97 percent. Currently, nearly all anti-retroviral therapies first target the liver, lungs and other organs before reaching the brain.

This poses a special problem with HIV, which causes inflammation and cellular disruption wherever it goes in the body. According to physician and FIU professor Dr. Cheryl Holder, the fact that medicines cannot penetrate the brain allows the virus to lurk there unchecked, pooling and possibly causing neurological damage.

“It’s important to get the drug to the brain,’’ Holder said, “to help prevent dementia in older patients, and inflammation.’’

Prior to the introduction of the new technique, the only way to introduce medicine directly to the brain was to cut open the skull.

Nair and Khizroev began their research 18 months ago after winning a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the potential of magnetic particles. One of the more challenging questions of the work was how to release the drug without harming brain tissue in the process.

The magneto-electric nanoparticles used in the study are able to release the drugs without generating heat, which could potentially damage the tissue around them. The use of magnetic energy enables the particles to do so.

Khizroev said that the next phase of research will take place at Emory University in Atlanta with experiments on monkeys infected with HIV. If the results are replicable in live subjects, testing could begin on humans, pending the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.

[image via Shutterstock.com]