McKelvey School Medicine Neurotechnologies

A new method for precision drug delivery: painting

Researchers from the McKelvey School of Engineering and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are one step closer to delivering precise amounts of medication to exact location, repurposing an existing imaging "painting" method. Cavitation images (left); PET images (middle); overlay of the two (right). (Courtesy: Hong Chen lab)

If traditional drug delivery were a type of painting, it might be akin to paintball. With good aim, a majority of the paint ends on the bullseye, but it also drips and splashes, carrying streams of paint across the target.

If the drug needs to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout your body for treating disease wherever it may be, this paintball-like delivery system may work. But it won’t work for targeted and precise drug delivery.

A more acute delivery approach would look more like “painting by numbers,” a technique that would allow precise delivery of a certain amount of drugs to an exact location. Researchers at the McKelvey School of Engineering and the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis are developing the tools necessary for such a drug delivery system, which they call cavitation dose painting.

Their research was published online this week in Scientific Reports.

Using focused ultrasound with its contrast agent, microbubbles, to deliver drugs across the blood-brain barrier (FUS-BBBD), the research team, led by Hong Chen, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at McKelvey School of Engineering, and assistant professor of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine, was able to overcome some of the uncertainty of drug delivery.

This method takes advantage of the microbubbles expanding and contracting when they interact with the ultrasound, essentially pumping the intravenously-delivered drug to wherever the ultrasound is pointing.

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