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Modifying the Brain Barrier to enhance treatments against dementia

The Project “Advanced Lipid Nanostructures to Overcome Blood-Brain-Barrier” seeks to design nanometric particles and treat efficiently the disease of the central nervous system (CNS), as the Alzheimers. The research is led by Olga López, from the Instituto de Química Avanzada de Cataluña (IQAC-CSIC), and Mercedes Balcells, from MIT.

Olga López during the interview at the Instituto de Química Avanzada de Cataluña (IQAC-CSIC)Dementia is a common syndrome in brain diseases and damage, such as Alzheimer’s disease or strokes. The WHO estimates that there are over 50 million people in the world living with dementia and that every 3.2 seconds a new case is registered. There are about 10 million new cases every year.

The blood-brain barrier is a membrane of selective permeability that protects the brain,  preventing the transit of toxins, although it allows nutrients to cross. The membrane prevents drugs from reaching brain tissues, which makes harder pharmacological treatment. On the other hand, the degradation of this membrane, which frequently happens in many neurodegenerative diseases, leads to brain intoxication associated to the occurrence of dementias. Modifying the permeability of the barrier means to have the possibility of controlling transport across the brain barrier of drugs and toxins.

Every year there are 10 million new cases of dementia in the world

The scientists are working to design nanoparticles composed of lipids similar to the ones in the blood-brain barrier cells. These nanoparticles would be designed for increasing or decreasing the permeability of the brain barrier, depending on the intended goal. This is an essential adjustment to enhance the treatments focused on stopping the progression of dementia in neurodegenerative diseases, to which there are no effective treatments nowadays.

The project is in the development phase and has received funding from the MIT-SPAIN ”la Caixa” Foundation SEED FUND programme, aimed to promote joint projects between the MIT and the Spanish research centres.

More: Perfiles de Ciencia - Olga López