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Stimulating: Nanoparticles can improve stroke recovery

The findings of this study offer new opportunities for treating neurological disorders.



This non invasive method delivers magnetic nanoparticles into the brain, which the study finds can increase the benefits of trans cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

TMS is already used as a non invasive method of brain stimulation which is already used clinically or in clinical trials to treat neurological conditions like stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and addiction.

Rats that were given combined nanoparticle and TMS treatment every 24 hours for 14 days after an ischemic stroke displayed to have overall better health.

They put on weight quicker and had improved cognitive and motor functions compared to those only related with TMS.

During the process of TMS treatment, an electrical current runs through an electric coil placed outside the skull, producing a magnetic field that stimulates brain cells by inducing a further electrical current inside the brain.

However, the stimulation is often not intense enough to penetrate far enough into the brain to reach areas in need of treatment.

In this new study, the researchers display that magnetic nanoparticle, administered intranasally, can make neurons more responsive and amplify the magnetic signal from TMS to reach deeper brain tissue, thus aiding recovery.

The findings of this study offer new opportunities for treating neurological disorders.

Making the impossible, possible

A key question in nanomedicine has been answered by this research, that being whether it is possible to enhance TMS by the use of nanoparticles that are non-invasively delivered into the brain.

It was previously thought by leading figures in the field that it was almost impossible to do this, because of the blood-brain barrier, which separates the brain from the rest of the body’s bloodstream.

The researchers were able to overcome this problem by guiding the magnetic nanoparticles closer to the correct area with a large magnet near the head.

Dr Gang Ruan, who is an author of the study, says: “We were able to overcome the blood-brain barrier and send enough nanoparticles into the brain to use in combination with TMS simulation to improve recovery from stroke.

“TMS devices are already used for the clinical treatment of neurological disorders but have severe limitations in terms of stimulation strength and depths of the brain they can penetrate.

“By non-invasively putting magnetic nanoparticles into the brain, we can amplify and enhance the TMS stimulation effects on neurons, making the treatment more effective,” Dr Ruan adds.

“Showing it is possible to use nanoparticles in this way paves the way for medical applications of nanoparticles for other neurological disorders.”

Smashing barriers

The iron oxide nanoparticles that are used in this study are already used in treatments for iron deficiency as they are non-toxic and biodegradable.

The researchers also modified the nanoparticles by coating them with various non-toxic substances.

Dr Ruan says: “The coating causes the nanoparticles to stick to the blood-brain barrier, increasing their chances of passing through it. Without this coating, the particles just bounce back from the barrier instead of crossing it.

“The modifications of the iron oxide particles also ensure that the nanoparticles can stick to the neurons and increase their responsiveness to TMS stimulation.”

The safety of using the modified nanoparticles needs to be assessed in clinical trials but has the potential to be used in combination with TMS, and other methods such as brain imaging, to gain more insight into how the brain works and improve the treatment of neurological disorders.

“Many scientists still think it is impossible to non-invasively send enough nanoparticles into the brain to affect brain function. Yet we have shown that it is possible,” says Dr Ruan.

“We combined the expertise on our team in four different disciplines, materials science, biophysics, neuroscience, and medical science, to push the boundaries of our knowledge and challenge what is currently thought in the field.”