It’s a heady moment when you take on evolution and come out a winner. But that is exactly how translational neuroscientist Krys Bankiewicz, MD, PhD, feels these days.
Bankiewicz, you see, has devised a method for delivering drugs directly to specific areas in the brain and imaging the results to ensure success. Doing so has allowed him to circumvent evolution’s blood-brain barrier, which, while designed to block poisons from flooding the brain, also prevents helpful drugs from doing much good, either.
For Parkinson’s disease patients, this could mean using engineered viruses to deliver the missing neurotransmitter dopamine and small molecules to bring growth factor to dying cells. For brain cancer patients, it could mean a time-released system that lasts for months, killing tumor cells as they arise.
If all this sounds far-fetched, don’t tell it to some dog owners whose pets were near death from brain cancer. Thanks to Bankiewicz’s drug infusion system being used by veterinarians in a special project at the University of California, Davis, a high percentage of the dogs have now lived for years instead of months.
Bankiewicz describes this march across the “valley of death” from basic science to clinical reality as both his passion and his calling. The brain is not an organ as much as organism, he says. And in respecting its function as a universe unto itself, Bankiewicz might just have become its newest star.