Beata Chertok, Ph.D., imagined she could find a way to treat brain tumors without surgery.

Imagine a miniscule device surfing your blood stream on its way to a specific cell in your brain where your immune system needs help to fight a tumor. Imagine the device arrives, releases a packet of helper molecules and genes, and simultaneously disintegrates. The helpers wait for a signal. Imagine the signal comes and the helpers go to work, healing your brain.

Ten years ago, Beata Chertok, Ph.D., imagined she could find a way to treat brain tumors without surgery. It all started when she read a letter.

The letter was written by a mother after her 18-year-old son’s sixth surgery for brain cancer. Each procedure had each left the boy more incapacitated. The mother begged neuroscientists to find a better way to treat a brain tumor. 

That letter became Dr. Chertok’s research agenda. Through nanotechnology, she developed a model for magnetically targeting protein therapy to brain tumors and demonstrated its performance in rodents. Next, Dr. Chertok developed a first-time microplatform responsive to both magnetic and acoustic signaling and demonstrated it could deliver genetic therapies to tumors. In doing so, she discovered the role that brain immunity plays in tumor progression. 

Her subsequent work designing genetic immunotherapy agents brought Dr. Chertok still closer to answering the mother’s plea for her son and set the stage for the study she undertook with support from the BRF. 

Injectable microbubbles 

There are a number of formidable challenges to delivering drugs intact to a precise location, the brain-blood barrier to name one. In addition, once the drugs arrive, in order to do its share of the work, each drug component must be activated at a separate time and on a strict schedule. 

Dr. Chertok was awarded a BRF seed grant to determine the feasibility of a new “microbubble” delivery system that she designed. The microbubble device was tested in a series of experiments with rodents. She hoped the device can safely deliver to a pre-set treatment location a packet of drugs—genes, proteins and small molecules— to improve brain immunity. Not an easy task. 

Controlled by ultrasound 

Ultrasound is the key. Dr. Chertok planned to use it to “steer” the microbubble through the blood stream to a specific location in the brain; trigger its collapse and the release of the drug packet; and then activate each drug component at the split-second moment it is needed. Tumors in the test animals were examined after treatment to determine the effects of the therapy. 

Far-reaching potential 

Dr. Chertok’s study may lead to injection therapies for brain tumors, neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s disease and ALS, as well as traumatic brain injuries. BRF is proud to support such innovative research. 

Beata Chertok, Ph.D.
2015 Fay/Frank Seed Grant recipient Beata Chertok, Ph.D., is assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences and assistant professor of biomedical engineering, University of Michigan. Her research could revolutionize how we treat brain tumors, neurodegenerative diseases, and traumatic brain injuries.

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