A new technology developed by Ben-Gurion University could soon provide better, more accurate, and more effective therapies for patients suffering from diseases like Parkinson’s, AIDS, and a host of brain disorders. The technology, called V-Smart, uses nanotechnology to develop a microscopic “bubble” transport system that can bring drugs to the exact area in the body where they are needed, rather than administering them through the bloodstream or directly to the central nervous system, which can cause side effects.
V-Smart, according to Professor Eliahu Heldman, one of the designers of the system, offers the best hope for curing brain and central nervous system diseases because it enables drugs to traverse the normally uncrossable “blood-brain barrier.” V-Smart, Heldman said, “can transport encapsulated small molecules, peptides, proteins and nucleic acids, across the BBB and release them in the brain where their activity is needed,” giving doctors an important new tool in treating serious diseases of the brain.
V-Smart uses microscopic bubble-like membranous structures, known as vesicles, to deliver drugs. Vesicles occur naturally in the body and are used to carry proteins and other molecules through membranes. Vesicles are one of the few things in the body that can permeate the BBB, which consists of special cells around the central nervous system to keep blood and brain fluid separate.
Sometimes, however, pathogens are able to break down the BBB, enabling substances such as bacteria or other toxins to attack parts of the brain — possibly resulting in diseases such as meningitis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and HIV Encephalitis.
Any disease that is able to break through the BBB is considered very serious and difficult to contend with, often because it is difficult to target the areas of the brain affected with the amount of drugs needed for treatment. Several methods exist for breaching the BBB, most notably targeting the brain directly with a needle, but that, too, is an imprecise method, because it is difficult to target the specific area of the brain where help is needed.
That’s where V-Smart comes in, said Heldman. “Animal models that we have used show that this system holds a lot of promise in dealing with these diseases of the brain,” he told The Times of Israel.
Nano-developed vesicles administered intravenously or orally deliver encapsulated material such as analgesic peptides, which can target specific cells or proteins in the brain with drugs. The nano-sized vesicles are formed from compounds (bolaamphiphiles) that are programmed to release their drugs when they hit a specific environment in the body. The nanovesicles are highly stable and provide a controlled release mechanism which allows the drug to pass through biological barriers, including the blood-brain barrier, targeting specific cells and tissues.
The technology aims to pinpoint where the drug will be released in the brain, ensuring that the area of the brain that needs treatment gets it and that there are far fewer side effects. In a recent study, for example, Mayo Clinic researchers found that Parkinson’s patients who were being treated with a dopamine agonist had begun engaging in compulsive gambling or excessive sexual activity. Such side effects could be avoided if Parkinson’s drugs were targeted specifically at the parts of the brain affected by Parkinson’s, without affecting other parts of the brain that could trigger unwanted behaviors.
V-Smart, Heldman believes, will greatly enhance the treatment of Parkinson’s and many other diseases once it comes to market. “If all goes well, I think we will be ready for human trials within two years,” he said.
Heldman has been working in the field of nano-based drug treatment and delivery for years, and was involved in commercial development of drugs for Parkinson’s and other diseases, he said.
Along with Heldman (who is professor emeritus of Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Clinical Biochemistry), scientists who worked on the project included Dr. Sarina Grinberg of BGU’s Dept. of Chemistry, and Dr. Charles Linder of the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering. Ben-Gurion’s technology transfer company, BGN Technologies, recently signed a licensing agreement for V-Smart with Lauren Sciences LLC, a privately held biotechnology company in New York. And both BGU and Lauren Sciences were recently awarded research grants for the development of V-Smart and drugs that can be used with it from the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Campbell Foundation.
Source: Times Of Israel