Drug delivery research investigates new strategies for the delivery of therapeutic agents to the brain.
Developing effective medical treatments for brain diseases faces particular challenges, since many drugs that are ingested or injected (into a blood vessel) cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, an important membrane structure responsible for protecting the brain from harmful substances like bacteria or other neurotoxins. Advances in drug delivery research can potentially be applied to the treatment of various neurological conditions like brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
One area of active drug delivery research at UCSF involves the development and improvement of convection-enhanced delivery (CED), an experimental technique for directly infusing drugs into a brain tumor. With CED, a small hole is made in the patient’s skull to insert a cannula (a thin tube) that extends to the site of the tumor. Delivering drugs directly to a tumor through the cannula increases drug efficacy, while reducing side effects to healthy brain tissue and the rest of the body.
Many recent innovations to this technique have been developed by UCSF researcher Krystof Bankiewicz MD, PhD. Most notably, his lab developed a technique to make the CED-infused drugs visible by MRI. This allows the surgical team to monitor drug infusion during the operation, so they can make sure enough drug is infused throughout the tumor. Ongoing research includes clinical trials testing the safety and efficacy of various medical therapies delivered via CED.