MIT researchers develop ultra-thin needle that could be used to deliver drugs straight to a patient’s brain

When taking medicine that’s meant for the treatment of certain neurological disorders, waiting for the medicine to finally reach the brain is something of an unavoidable circumstance. Often, patients also have to suffer a number of different side effects as the drugs that have been administered tend to affect other parts of the brain as well – even if they may not be connected to or affected by the condition that is being treated.

Now a group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have come up with a system that allows injecting drugs straight into certain specific parts of a patient’s brain. And with this method, not only can they treat the conditions that patients may be suffering from, but they can also completely prevent certain side effects from happening purely because the drugs being administered have no way of going anywhere else in a patient’s brain.

The method, which is a miniaturized system designed specifically to deliver tiny quantities of medicine to certain brain regions, was devised by a group of MIT researchers and detailed in a new paper that was recently published in the January 24 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine. The researchers note that the mechanism makes it possible to treat certain diseases by administering drugs directly to specific brain regions, without interfering in any way with the normal function of the rest of a patient’s brain.

According to Canan Dagdeviren, an LG Electronics Career Development assistant professor of Media Arts and Sciences and the lead author of the study, their newly-devised method offers something that is far superior to conventional methods, which tend to cause side effects in patients that are being treated. “We can infuse very small amounts of multiple drugs compared to what we can do intravenously or orally, and also manipulate behavior changes through drug infusion,” said Dagdeviren.

Robert Langer, a professor at MIT’s David H. Koch Institute and a senior author of the paper, is optimistic about the impact that their research could have in the field of neurology. “We believe this tiny microfabricated device could have tremendous impact in understanding brain diseases,” he said, “as well as providing new ways of delivering biopharmaceuticals and performing biosensing in the brain.”

The two are joined by Michael Cirna, a professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the David H. Koch Institute at MIT, as a senior author of the study.

According to Cirna, they set out to solve a simple and straightforward problem through this research. “One of the problems with central nervous system drugs is that they’re not specific, and if you’re taking them orally they go everywhere,” he explained. “The only way we can limit the exposure is to just deliver the a cubic millimeter of the brain, and in order to do that, you have to have extremely small cannulas (thin tubes used to deliver medicine).”

With that in mind, the researchers developed a miniaturized cannula, which they could use to target very small areas in the brain. They ended up constructing tubes that measured about 30 micrometers in diameter and up to 10 centimeters in length, and had them all contained inside a stainless steel needle with a roughly 150 micron diameter.

Once the cannulas were in place, the researchers connected them to small pumps that could be implanted under the skin. The researchers then started to conduct experiments on lab rats, pumping very small doses – hundreds of nanoliters – into their brains and inducing certain effects.

The findings show that not only is it possible to induce – or indeed, counteract – the effects of certain drugs on the brain through the use of the custom-made miniaturized cannulas that they made, but that there is some potential to use their new system to deliver entirely new treatments for behavioral neurological disorders like addiction or obsessive compulsive disorder.

For now, the researchers will work on adapting their research methods – especially their custom-made cannulas – for use in humans for future studies. In the meantime, they are happy with the results that they’ve got so far and are optimistic about the future.

Read more about how researchers are taking better care of the human brain at

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