Since its formation, the institute has been remarkably productive, publishing more than 1,200 papers. The quality of work produced by QBI researchers is demonstrated by the institute’s National Health and Medical Research Council and Australia Research Council grant success, with more than $110 million in competitive grant funding attracted to date.
QBI is home to more than 450 scientists and 42 laboratory leaders.
A major problem in treating any brain disorder is the difficulty in accessing the brain itself. Not only is the brain protected by a thick skull and a three-layered protective membrane called the meninges, but the blood-brain barrier prevents most things from leaving the bloodstream and entering the brain. The blood-brain barrier is a huge impediment to drug development for brain disorders. Not surprisingly, vast resources have been devoted to designing drugs with the right properties to get through this almost impenetrable barrier.
An alternative way to overcome the blood-brain barrier is to temporarily open it. Focusing ultrasound waves at specific locations in the brain can temporarily open the tight junctions of the blood-brain barrier that are usually sealed shut. This allows drugs to enter the brain which, because of their size or chemical properties, are normally prevented from doing so.
Research from the laboratory of Professor Jürgen Götz has established scanning ultrasound as a method to clear amyloid-ß from the brains of Alzheimer’s mice and restore memory. Extending this work, he and his team have shown that scanning ultrasound helps deliver an antibody that works against the toxic tau protein.
When mice were given the tau antibody alone, the amount of toxic tau protein decreased and the animals’ behaviour improved. Multiple treatments of ultrasound on its own also decreased the levels of toxic tau, and had a positive effect on cognition when the number of treatments was increased. Most crucially, when ultrasound was combined with the antibody, the therapeutic effects were even greater. To test the safety of using ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier, this research is moving into sheep, which have a skull thickness similar to human skulls. If successful, the next stage will be to add additional capabilities and proceed to human clinical trials.