Michael J Fox
Research funded by the Michael J Fox Foundation finds method of delivering drugs for diseases such as Parkinson's (Reuters)

Using nasal mucosa, or the lining of the nose, scientists have been able to breach the blood brain barrier that has prevented drug therapies entering the brain.

This breakthrough offers the potential for new treatments for neurodegenerative and central nervous system diseases, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis.

Many drugs exist for these conditions, with some being potential cures. However, they are ineffective because the blood brain barrier stops them from reaching their destination directly.

The blood brain barrier protects the brain from foreign substances that may cause damage, protects the brain from hormones and neurotransmitters, and maintains a constant environment for the organ.

However, these functions mean treat pharmaceutical agents are prevented from reaching the central nervous system.

Previous attempts to breach the barrier include the implantation of catheters and osmotic disruption - where a shock is applied causing the endothelial cells to shrink and open a junction - however both these methods are temporary and can cause infection.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston University have developed a method of breaching the barrier by using the patient's own mucosa.

Permanent bypass

Supported with a grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, the team developed an animal model to test drug delivery to the brain by using tissues from the subject's nasal lining.

Researchers replaced the lining of the brain with highly permeable mucosal grafts - a surgery commonly performed after transnasal brain tumour removal.

They found their method provided a semi-permeable window in the blood brain barrier that allowed higher molecular drug delivery - the membranes were able to deliver the molecules to the brain 1,000 times more effectively than when the barrier is in place.

Benjamin Bleier, from Harvard Medical School, said: "As an endoscopic skull base surgeon, I and many other researchers have helped to develop methods to reconstruct large defects between the nose and brain using the patient's own mucosa or nasal lining.

"Since this is a proven surgical technique which is known to be safe and well tolerated, this data suggests that these membranes may represent the first known method to permanently bypass the blood-brain barrier using the patient's own tissue.

"This method may open the door for the development of a variety of new therapies for neurodegenerative and CNS disease."