What is Blood-Brain Barrier?

April 22, 2021

And How Does It Impact Brain Tumor Treatment?

Anyone who tries to keep up with the latest science on emerging brain tumor treatments will quickly encounter the term blood-brain barrier. Usually it will come up when an article or video talks about whether a drug can cross the blood-brain barrier, or some new technique to get around it. Is it a medical device? Some structure that tumors build to protect themselves from the immune system?

As it turns out, it’s none of these things. The blood-brain barrier is a system the body uses to protect the brain and nervous tissue from damage and invasion. It’s like a locked door that keeps bacteria and viral infections from entering the brain, as well as most other large molecules.

The reason it comes up so often in brain tumor treatment is that, to treat a brain tumor, you need to get drugs past the gates of the blood-brain barrier and into the nervous tissue on the other side. Many drugs that have enjoyed success in other cancers can’t currently be a part of the brain tumor toolkit, because of the blood-brain barrier.

If the blood brain barrier is so great at stopping attackers, why couldn’t it prevent the tumor in the first place?

While some cancers may be caused by microbes or foreign chemicals, brain tumors generally start out in the tissue of the brain or nervous system itself, caused by a mutation or cell damage. In other words, the blood-brain barrier can stop something from getting in that would cause damage, but it can’t do anything about damage that began inside the brain.

How does this impact me?

Techniques for helping treatment reach the areas in the brain where it’s needed, despite the blood-brain barrier, is an active and important area of neuro-oncology research. Doctors and scientists are working on it from multiple angles, such as designing new classes of drugs, bioengineering and nanoparticles, medical devices, and surgical techniques.

Brains for the Cure continues to watch developments in this space and we will continue to spread awareness about developments and clinical research in this important area.