New Joint Project: How Medications Can Overcome the Blood-Brain Barrier

Press Release No. 289/2012
21 December 2012
Heidelberg researchers are developing artificial tissue structure as a test model

How can the active ingredients in medications be transported into the human brain more directly? This question is at the core of a research project that includes scientists from the Institute for Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology (IPMB) of Heidelberg University. The Heidelberg researchers want to recreate an artificial tissue structure that imitates the body’s blood flow. The Trans-BBbarrier Project, a collaboration of five research institutions and companies in Germany, is being financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for a period of three years in the amount of approx. 1.44 million euros, of which approx. 250,000 euros go to the IPMB. This work is aimed at developing new forms of therapy for diseases of the central nervous system.

“In developing new medications for diseases of the central nervous system, such as epilepsy or Alzheimer’s, often the greatest hurdle is transporting the active ingredients across the blood-brain barrier into the brain”, explains Prof. Dr. Gert Fricker, who conducts research at the IPMB. According to the scientist, the blood-brain barrier is impenetrable for many molecules because it separates the blood flow from the central nervous system. It prevents foreign particles, potentially toxic metabolic products, and pathogens from getting into the brain and spinal cord.

The scientists see a solution in the development of transport aids that allow the drugs to be transferred into the brain. “Until now there haven’t been any suitable models for testing the efficacy of such transport aids”, comments Prof. Fricker, Director of the Department of Pharmaceutical Technology and Pharmacology of the IPMB. “Currently available cell culture systems cannot simulate human physiology accurately enough, because the cells lose important functions outside of their natural environment”, Fricker explains. To solve this problem, the Trans-BB Barrier Project will develop a new type of cell culture model of the blood-brain barrier with improved cell function.

Assisted by microtechnology, the Heidelberg researchers will attempt to replicate the natural, physiological cell environment in a so-called microfluidic system. To accomplish this, the cells are arranged in the actual tissue structure through electrical and fluidic forces. The cells are to receive nourishment through micro-channels, thus imitating the body’s blood flow. “Then we can conduct the testing using a model that particularly corresponds to human physiology.” Work on this joint project began in November of 2012.

Prof. Dr. Gert Fricker, Institute for Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology (IPMB)
Phone: (06221) 54-8336,

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