AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 1, 2017

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Smart Fat Cells Cross the Blood-brain Barrier

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An MRI contrast agent that can pass through the blood-brain barrier will allow doctors to detect deadly gliomas earlier, according to researchers from Penn State College of Medicine. Contrast agents used to outline gliomas on an MRI can only pass the protective blood-brain barrier once the tumors have grown large enough to cause damage to the barrier. Until then, the blood-brain barrier blocks 98 percent of small molecules and all large molecules from entering the brain. To overcome this deadly limitation, Penn State researchers created “smart fat cells” called liposomes that can pass the blood-brain barrier in mice, seek out tiny cancerous gliomas like heat-seeking missiles and light them up on an MRI. The liposomes are loaded with the most commonly used contrast agent, Magnevist. On their surface, the liposomes are studded with proteins that target receptors on glioma cells. During the study, the researchers found that the liposomes entered the brain in healthy mice with uncompromised blood-brain barriers. Both the conventional and the new technique found large gliomas in mice with cancer, but only the liposome-encapsulated agent was able to detect smaller early-stage tumors. “The goal is to be able to get down to detecting single cancer cells,” said the study’s lead researcher. To read more about this study, click here.

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