University of Iowa researchers have discovered a way to turn the blood brain barrier into a production and delivery system for getting therapeutic molecules directly into brain cells.
Working with animal models of a group of fatal neurological disorders called lysosomal storage diseases, the researchers found that these diseases cause unique and disease-specific alterations to the blood vessels of the blood brain barrier.
The scientists used these distinct alterations to target the brain with gene therapy, which reversed the neurological damage caused by the diseases.
The findings could lead to a new non-invasive approach for treating neurological damage caused by lysosomal storage diseases.
"This is the first time an enzyme delivered through the bloodstream has corrected deficiencies in the brain. This provides a real opportunity to deliver enzyme therapy without surgically entering the brain to treat lysosomal storage diseases," Nature quoted lead investigator Beverly Davidson as saying.
"In addition, we have discovered that these neurological diseases affect not just the brain cells that we often focus on, but also the blood vessels throughout the brain. We have taken advantage of that finding to delivery gene therapy, but we also can use this knowledge to better understand how the diseases impact other cell types such as neurons," she added.
Lysosomal storage diseases are caused by deficiencies in enzymes that break down larger molecules. Without these enzymes, the large molecules accumulate inside cells and cause cell damage and destruction.
Enzyme replacement therapy has been successful in treating one form of lysosomal storage disease called Gaucher disease.
However, storage diseases that affect the central nervous system remain untreatable because it has not been possible, to this point, to get the missing enzymes past the blood-brain-barrier and into the brain.
"Our discovery allowed us to test the idea that the brain cells might be able to make use of the reintroduced enzyme to stop or reverse the damage caused by the accumulated materials. In the treated mice, the affected brain cells go back to looking normal, the brain inflammation goes away and the impaired behaviors that these mice have is corrected," said Davidson.
The study was published in Nature Medicine's Advance Online Publication (AOP).