Why Take a Pill When You Can Get a Brain Injection Instead?

Everyone knows that pills are the most common way of administering medicines: we have pills for just about everything. But a company called MRI Interventions, Inc. might be set to change that.

There are a number of reasons why administering pharmaceutical interventions orally is a good idea. First of all, it’s easy. You just tell a patient to swallow a pill. Plus, pills aren’t very expensive to produce, and they’re easy to package and distribute. Most importantly, they work. At least most of the time. While oral medicines are effective in treating a number of disorders in various parts of the body, they haven’t proven to be as effective when dealing with problems based in the brain.

The reason is the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which is formed by a layer of cells that keep molecules in the blood from entering the brain. This helps keep a lot of things that shouldn’t be in the brain out of it, but it also makes it difficult to design drugs that correctly enter the brain. The BBB is extremely selective, and it’s very good at what it does, meaning that a lot of drugs don’t get past it. And if they do, they have the potential to affect the entire brain instead of the just the area that’s exhibiting a pathology.

In an effort to get around this problem, MRI Interventions, Inc. designed the ClearPoint system, which allows neurosurgeons to deliver controlled doses of drugs to very specific areas in the brain by using a computer-guided catheter and a device called the SmartFrame trajectory guide, which allows the surgeon to see exactly where the catheter is being placed in the brain. The entire process takes place in an MRI machine, and the trajectory guide is filled with a liquid that shows up on the MRI, meaning that the surgeon can see exactly where the device is placed, how it is oriented, and where it’s pointing.

The ClearPoint software assists the neurosurgeon by monitoring the exact location in space of the trajectory guide to ensure that the catheter is placed at precisely the right point within the brain. And it’s incredibly accurate. The president of MRI Interventions, Inc. states that the system can deliver medicine to a specified point the size of a sesame seed anywhere within the brain of a living subject. That’s significantly more accurate than any other system like this that’s been tested in the past.

Of course, further testing is required before this sort of system might be widely adopted. Like with any operation that involves the brain — even a very minor one — there are a number of potential adverse effects. Any bleeding within the brain can be life-threatening, and extreme care has to be taken to ensure that no infectious agents are present. There is little discussion of risk on the MRI Interventions website, though a related article reports the chief of stereotactic and radiosurgery at the University of California San Diego saying that the pinpoint delivery minimizes risk. We will eagerly await more publicized results.

What do you think? Is this the next wave of treatments in brain disorders? Or will it be quickly surpassed by the next up-and-coming technology? Would you be willing to try it?


Hock, L. (25 February, 2014) Safer drug delivery to the brain. D Magazine. 

Image via Spectral-Design / Shutterstock.

Daniel Albright, MA, PhD (c)

Daniel Albright, MA, is a PhD student at the University of Reading, studying the lateralization of linguistically mediated event perception. He received his masters in linguistics from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Get in touch with him at www.dannalbright.com or on Twitter at @dann_albright.
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