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National brain tumour research funding needs to increase to £30-35 million a year

A new ‘road map’ could ease blockages to effective drug delivery to the brain

The human brain has the ability to block cancer drugs from effectively reaching cancer cells in the brain and the greatest obstacle to treating cancer is the brain’s natural defence mechanism, the blood-brain barrier, the collection of blood vessels that can filter out what goes in and out of the brain.

Brain metastases, or secondary brain tumours, occur when cancer cells spread from their original site to the brain. Brain metastases frequently occur in patients diagnosed with breast and lung cancer and melanoma and these metastases have a devastating survival rate, mostly because it’s so difficult to get drugs into the brain tissue because of the blood-brain barrier.

When cancer cells invade the brain, the blood-brain barrier transitions into the blood-tumour barrier, and this transition still presents a roadblock for effective drug delivery.

Recently published work  in Oncotarget from scientists at Purdue University, Indiana, has provided the first comprehensive characterisation of both the blood-brain and blood-tumour barriers in brain metastases of lung cancer, and this will serve as a road map for treatment development.

Scientists observed that one of the sustained changes during the transition from the blood-brain barrier to the blood-tumour barrier was in one of the largest cell types in the brain. These cells are known as astrocytes. Purdue scientists believe that this discovery alone will be key when it comes to future treatment development.

The principal investigator of the Comparative Blood-Brain Barrier Laboratory at Pudue, Tiffany Lyle, said “Identifying when that change occurs during the transition is critical because it tells us when and where the brain vasculature prevents effective drug delivery.” 

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