Sea lampreys are a parasitic fish that could help scientists develop new treatments targeting brain tumors, brain trauma, and even dementia, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Austin found a way to turn sea lamprey molecules into drug delivery mechanisms that directly reach brain tumors, succeeding where many other cancer treatments fail.
Sea lamprey immune systems, although similar to humans, produce small molecules called VLRS in place of antibodies.
It was these VLRS molecules that the researchers used to deliver drug treatments to the brain. The team first vaccinated lampreys to find the VLRS that service the extracellular matrix of the brain.
Having a way to target the brain specifically is key. Most medicines and drugs target individual cells, but the lamprey molecules target the outside of the cell after bypassing the blood-brain barrier.
In healthy brains, the blood-brain barrier ensures that the brain and central nervous system are protected from toxins and pathogens. This defense mechanism is so effective that drugs and even the sea lamprey molecules cannot pass through the barrier to treat tumors in the brain.