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Researchers find possible path through narrow barrier

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Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester have taken a first, major step toward the possibility of more direct treatments for high-risk conditions such as brain tumors and Alzheimer's disease.

In a study published in June in the scientific journal PLOS ONE , researchers say, in mice, that they've been able to get a synthetic peptide to cross the blood-brain barrier.

According to a Mayo Clinic description, "the blood-brain barrier is meant to protect the brain from numerous undesirable chemicals circulating in the body, but it also obstructs access for treatment of brain tumors and other conditions."

In humans, surgery is a common but highly invasive and high-risk option for brain tumors.

"Nearly all of the drugs that could potentially help are too large to normally pass through the barrier," according to Mayo.

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Mayo scientists developed an awkwardly named synthetic peptide called K16ApoE.

Brain receptors accept the peptide as if it's a normal bodily entity, creating a sort of pore through which molecules can pass that otherwise wouldn't make it through the blood-brain barrier.

Now, we must recognize that this has, so far, been done only in mice. Mouse models do not necessarily work in humans.

But, if this one does, it holds the potential to be transformative for the treatment of brain tumors, and maybe even Alzheimer's disease.

"Previously, the researchers delivered antibodies targeted against amyloid plaques into the brains of mouse models of Alzheimer's disease using this same method," the clinic noted.

This type of research can take an agonizingly long time to demonstrate conclusive evidence of usefulness.

But it's profound that local scientists have demonstrated that the technique is possible.

Already, they say, they've demonstrated three of the five criteria needed to document that their therapy is usable.

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They've shown it's a technique that can be repeated. It should be "relatively easy to introduce into medical practice." And it would work for any size or location of brain tumor.

Now, researchers need to show that the therapy, delivered in such a way, will be effective — and that it's free from adverse side effects.

The announcement is the kind that will get little notice in the general public because it can't be used in humans immediately.

But it might be an important step toward altering how the brain is treated.

And that's good news.

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