Sön 26 maj / År 42 / Nr 1 2024

Scientists discover alternative paths into the brain

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen may have found the first indications of an alternative route past the heavy-duty guards of the human brain. This may well be a step on the way to creating better treatments for all diseases caused by misbalance in our most complex organ – the brain.

The brain has a most effective and tough defense; a fool-proof firewall preventing foreign molecules from entering the delicate area behind the barrier. While serving its purpose in protecting the brain from any possibly damaging intrusion, the natural barrier also prevents drug molecules from entering the areas where they could do good. Thus, finding a way past the barrier is one of our most complex challenges in medical science today.

A breakthrough in medical science
According to Professor Sven Frokjaer, Vice Dean at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, finding a way past the barrier would be a significant breakthrough in medical science on a global scale.
“It would open new paths in medical development that we have never been able to explore before, not least being of great importance to the development of future treatments of any brain cell degenerating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and brain cancer, for instance” he says.
According to Professor Frokjaer, we may even be able to treat schizophrenia and depression more effectively using a novel approach into the brain. But the road is neither easy nor unchallenging. In order to get past the barrier, scientists must first gain understanding of how the barrier works. Study the construction in order to break it down.

Adding to the pool of knowledge
The research on brain barriers is interdisciplinary and engages researchers from all over the world. The current project at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences is largely funded by the Lundbeck Foundation and Professor Martin Lauritzen of Glostrup Hospital has been appointed to lead the new Initiative on Brain Barriers and Drug Delivery.
“Bearing in mind that the barrier must be surpassed in a controlled manner, we may in the future be able to use a broader variety of substances which have proven effective on a receptive level. From our research group’s point of view, we hope to add to the knowledge required to eventually get past the barrier”, Sven Frokjaer explains.

New center for Biopharmaceuticals
While scientists are exploring new pathways in to the brain, the University of Copenhagen has also established its name globally with a new center for Biopharmaceuticals. It is not the first center in the world focusing on protein drugs, but it is among the first to combine research in using advanced chemical principles as tools of delivering peptides with new characteristics.
“With a strong foothold in both structural biology and drug delivery, the center is an important resource in strengthening most of the Medicon Valley Beacons – particularly Structural Biology, Systems Biology and Drug Delivery”, says Sven Frokjaer.
With an interdisciplinary approach scientists hope to develop new effective protein drugs.

Great expectations
Sven Frokjaer also carefully points out that the new center is a complement to many other strong research environments under the wings of the University of Copenhagen.
“We have a strong position in Medicon Valley and we now maintain great expectations on future collaborations with for example Lund University. Not to mention that the new Max IV Laboratory and ESS will undoubtedly make a huge impact on our future research activities”, Sven Frokjaer concludes.