July 7, 2009

Professor Joshua Smith Receives Grant to Research Techniques for Medication Delivery to the Brain

He and mechanical engineering major Martin Racenis ’11 will spend two weeks at Tohoku University in Japan

Joshua Smith, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will be crossing the Pacific this summer to further his research into techniques for dispersing medications through the brain.

Smith and mechanical engineering major Martin Racenis ’11 (Hopkinton, Mass.) will collaborate with Kenichi Funamoto, an assistant professor at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. Their work will focus on computer simulations of a medical procedure called convection-enhanced delivery (CED), which uses catheters placed in the brain to distribute medicine.

The trip is made possible by a grant awarded to Smith by the Institute of Fluid Science at Tohoku University. Worth approximately $3,700, the grant will allow Smith and Racenis to travel and conduct research for two weeks.

Smith and Funamoto’s work addresses a difficult medical problem: effectively delivering chemotherapy drugs following surgery to patients with malignant brain tumors. The delivery of therapeutic drugs into the brain is made difficult by the structure of the capillary blood vessels within the central nervous system. This “blood-brain barrier” restricts the ability to deliver drugs orally or intravenously.

CED is one technique that could be used to circumvent the screening effects of the blood-brain barrier so that drugs can reach the brain tissues.

However, CED still presents some problems. “There are several interesting clinical and technical challenges that must be solved to bring this modality of tumor treatment into fully approved and widespread use, and mechanical and biomedical engineers are devoting significant efforts to them,” Smith says.

One consideration for carrying out such a procedure is gaining an understanding of how the drug moves through the brain tissue, which is important for planning dosages and other aspects of the treatment.

“Because measuring fluid pressures and velocities in vivo is very difficult, researchers, including myself, have developed mathematical models of CED to predict these and other relevant quantities. I run simulations to test the sensitivity of the mathematical model to the input parameters that describe the mechanical behavior of brain tissue and for which values are not very well known,” Smith says.

Smith’s new collaboration with Tohoku University builds on work that he completed as part of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Virginia and work that he has completed over the past two years at Lafayette in collaboration with Professor Jose Jaime Garcia of the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia.

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