An Israeli team has made a breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s by developing a nanochip that ferries “neural growth factor” (NGF) into the brain, a protein shown to slow the disease’s progression.
The Times of Israel recently reported that Technion—Israel Institute of Technology and Bar-Ilan University have developed a technology that will deliver NGF to the brain. Previously this had been very difficult due to the blood-brain barrier that acts as a shield for the brain from bacteria and other harmful substances.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is referred to as the epidemic of the 21st century with life expectancy continuing to increase. Those most affected by the disease are aged 85 and up with approximately 30% of that population afflicted by the neurodegenerative disease.
The major cause of the disease is the buildup of a protein called amyloid beta (Aβ). This protein blocks and kills neurons in different regions of the brain which contributes to the damage of “cholinergic mechanisms,” the neurons in charge of brain function. Hence the memory loss, speech impairment and orientation problems, to name a few, that affect those plagued by the illness.
This is where NGF comes into play, as research has shown that administering that protein, “Inhibits damage to the cholinergic mechanisms and slows the disease’s progression,” according to Technion’s Prof. Ester Segal, one of the leads on this study.
“In people with neurodegenerative diseases, the expression of the neural growth factor (NGF) protein is reduced,” she said. However, delivering NGF to the affected areas in the brain has been the obstacle and Technion believes they have made huge inroads to overcoming that problem.
The Times reports that “The Technion and Bar-Ilan University researchers say they have created nanoscale silicon chips that could meet this challenge. The chips allow the insertion of the curative protein directly into the brain and its release at the targeted tissue.”
Not only that, but these silicone chips are designed to carry large amounts of the protein and have been specified down to the dimension of their pores and the chemical properties of their actual surface in order to release the protein gradually and, when done, to dissolve in the brain safely.
These will not need to pass the blood-brain barrier and can be inserted directly into the brain and can be done two possible ways, according to Segal, after successful trials were done on mice.
The first way is by planting the chip into the brain, which requires the skull to be drilled into. However, this is far less invasive than what’s been done previously, which is to insert a catheter into the brain, as the chip only needs to be inserted into the outer layer of the brain—the dura mater—and not the brain itself.
The second way is to use a “gene gun,” which is normally used to inject DNA into plant cells in order to transform their genetic structure. The gene gun acts similarly to a nasal spray and injects the silicon chip through the nose and into the brain, thus bypassing the blood-brain barrier.
Segal said that this was the first time that a gene gun had been successfully used to deliver live particles into a living animal’s brain and added it’s, “Not for nothing drug addicts sniff cocaine via their noses.”
The studies are still ongoing but the team at Technion hopes to expand to clinical trials soon.