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A tiny implant opens the way to deliver drugs deep into the brain

Tested only in animals so far, the device, if you design it, could mark a new approach to treating brain diseases, reducing side effects by targeting only hard-to-reach circuits that need care.

WASHINGTON – Scientists have created a thin implant like hair that can drip medication deep into the brain by remote control and with precise precision.

Tested only on animals so far, if the device comes out, it could mark a new approach to treating brain diseases – potentially reducing side effects by focusing only on hard-to-reach circuits that need care.

"You can deliver things right where you want them, regardless of the disease," said Robert Langer, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Massachusetts. Technology whose biomedical engineering team reported the investigation on Wednesday.

Stronger and safer treatments are needed for brain disorders ranging from depression to Parkinson's. Simply getting medication inside the brain, beyond what is called the blood-brain barrier, is an obstacle. It is even harder to reach your deepest structures.

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Intravenous pills and medications that do inside activate side effects as they wash whole regions of the brain. So doctors have tried to insert tubes into the brain to pump medications closer to their targets, but that runs the risk of infection and is still not accurate enough. The most specific success to date is a cancer treatment, a wafer placed at the site of a surgically excised brain tumor that oozes chemotherapy.

The MIT team's next-generation approach: a customizable deep-brain implant that can deliver variable doses of more than one medication on demand.

The researchers constructed two ultra-thin medication tubes and slipped them into a stainless steel needle that is about the diameter of a human hair. That needle, built as long as necessary to reach the right place, is inserted through a hole in the skull in the desired brain circuit.

An electrode at the tip provides feedback, monitoring how the electrical activity of target neurons changes when the medication is delivered.

The needle is attached to two small programmable pumps containing the drugs. The plan: Thread the pumps somewhere under the skin for a fully implantable system, called MiNDS for the miniature neuronal drug delivery system. The pumps can be filled with an injection, and if more than two medications are needed, additional deposits could be added as in a printer ink cartridge, Langer said.

The laboratory rats gave MiNDS their first test.

Researchers implanted a needle in a brain region related to movement that damages Parkinson's disease. To mimic that disease, the implant dripped a chemical that caused the rats to move abnormally, including repeated turns in a clockwise direction. The researchers then turned off that chemical and infused saline solution through the second channel of the system, ending Parkinson's-like behavior, reported MIT lead author Canan Dagdeviren in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Another experiment in a monkey showed the delivery of the same chemical In a different region, the way in which directed brain cells are triggered was altered.

"There is great therapeutic potential for this," said Tracy Cui, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. She did not participate in the MIT study, but she is also developing this type of technology.

Numerous groups are working on implants to administer neurological medications in different ways, Cui noted. Although additional tests are needed before such a system can be tested on people, he said that such tools are important for research thanks to the comments that show how neurons react to different compounds.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. ; MIT has applied for a patent.

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