Nanotechnology Approaches to Crossing the Blood-Brain Barrier and Drug Delivery to the CNS
Nanotechnologies are materials and devices that have a functional organization in at least one dimension on the nanometer (nm) (one billionth of a meter) scale, ranging from a few to about 100 nm. Nanoengineered materials and devices aimed at biologic applications and medicine in general, and neuroscience in particular, are designed fundamentally to interface and interact with cells and their tissues at the molecular level. One particularly important area of nanotechnology application to the central nervous system (CNS) is the development of technologies and approaches for delivering drugs and other small molecules such as genes, oligonucleotides, and contrast agents across the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB protects and isolates CNS structures (i.e., the brain and spinal cord) from the rest of the body, and creates a unique biochemical and immunological environment. Clinically, there are a number of scenarios where drugs or other small molecules need to gain access to the CNS following systemic administration, which necessitates being able to cross the BBB. Nanotechnologies can potentially be designed to carry out multiple specific functions at once or in a predefined sequence, an important requirement for the clinically successful delivery and use of drugs and other molecules to the CNS, and as such have a unique advantage over other complimentary technologies and methods. This brief review introduces emerging work in this area and summarizes a number of example applications to CNS cancers, gene therapy, and analgesia.