Meth Crossing the Blood-Brain Barrier

meth

Mind-altering chemicals, like drugs and alcohol, do just that, they change your state of mind. Naturally, each drug has its own unique effect and how a person responds depends on the substance in question. Any individual with a history of alcohol or substance use disorder has a first-hand understanding of what such experiences are like; however, few people with such pasts know what a particular chemical "actually" does in the brain, or to the most vital organ.

Those who’ve undergone treatment may have a cursory understanding of mechanisms like the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The term is defined as a filtering mechanism of the capillaries that carry blood to the brain and spinal cord tissue, blocking the passage of certain substances. When a person uses a mind-altering substance, the particular drug makes its way into the bloodstream and onto the brain. While not everything that enters the bloodstream can pass the barrier, the materials that lead to use disorders do; and, can cause damage in the process of crossing the threshold.

In a fundamental sense, the BBB lets healthy things into your brain cells and prevents anything harmful, like toxins from entering. Researchers at the Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering say that when drugs like methamphetamine pass the barrier, the substance increases the permeability of the BBB, Motherboard reports. Meaning, other harmful toxins found in the blood may find their way across, too.

Artificial Brains On Meth

Advancements in technology allow researchers to create artificial human brains involving the integration of human cell cultures into microfluidic chip platforms, according to the article. This process may sound complicated, only understandable to scientists; however, it is possible for non-specialists to grasp the concept. The research team at Wyss are using microchips lined with living human cells which are then introduced to drugs like meth, to observe responses and stimuli. The research findings appear in Nature Biotechnology.

“Our primary reason for choosing this drug is that it is one of the most addictive drugs responsible for thousands of deaths,” writes co-lead researcher Ben Maoz. “Given this tragic statistic, it is surprising that much is still unknown. Therefore, we sought to use this novel system to unveil the metabolic effect of meth on the different parts of the [neurovascular unit].”

Please take a moment to watch a short video for a basic understanding of the process:


If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

“Just like in the brains of people who choose to smoke meth, the BBB chips started to leak,” Kit Parker, professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics, told Digital Trends. “That’s exactly what happens when you smoke meth — and why you shouldn’t.”

Developing a more concise understanding of how narcotics interact with the human brain can have enormous implications. The research may lead to more effective methods of treating addiction, according to the article. What’s more, the findings could help scientists discover new processes of transporting beneficial pharmaceuticals to the appropriate brain targets. Lead researchers Ben Maoz, Anna Herland, and Edward Fitzgerald are developing new Organ Chip platforms applicable to neuropathology research on stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injury.

We took a game-changing advance in microengineering made in our academic lab, and in just a handful of years, turned it into a technology that is now poised to have a major impact on society,” said Donald E. Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., is the Founding Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, who was not involved in the study.

Biologically inspired engineering may have near-limitless potential when it comes to studying the impact of psychostimulants on the brain, in real time. It also means that drug research – one day – may no longer require soliciting addicts and alcoholics in the grip of use disorders to participate in studies that involve using addictive substances.

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