For the first time, doctors have temporarily opened the protective barrier of the human brain and shown that it helps to boost the delivery of cancer medication to brain tumours.

Brain tumours have always been difficult to treat and one of the main reasons for this is that the brain has a natural barrier which prevents chemicals such as drugs (and bacteria) spreading from blood into the brain. This protective blood-brain barrier means that for some chemotherapy drugs, such as carboplatin, only 4% of the dose reaches the brain tumour.

Scientists in France have now found a novel way to help chemotherapy drugs cross this barrier and reach the tumour. The new method utilises microbubbles and ultrasound to disrupt the blood-brain barrier, the New Scientist reported.

In this ground breaking study, patients are given an injection of tiny bubbles alongside their usual chemotherapy drugs. As the bubbles travel in the blood vessel towards the brain, researchers trigger an ultrasound probe placed inside the patients’ skull to make the bubbles vibrate. This vibration causes the blood vessels to become leaky, temporarily disrupting the blood-brain barrier and allowing the chemotherapy drug to pass into the tumour.

Whilst it is too soon to know what effect this new technique will have on survival rates, Professor Carpentier is optimistic that not only is the method now proven to be safe in humans, the amount of carboplatin crossing the blood-brain barrier is increased five fold by using bubbles and ultrasound. By getting more of the chemotherapy drug into the tumour it is hoped that more brain cancers will be successfully treated.

Interested in more cancer news?