A nanocarrier engineered to be small enough to get past the blood-brain barrier could be targeted to deliver a chemotherapeutic drug more efficiently to tumour cells in the brain, researchers say.

According to Ann-Marie Broome from Medical University of South Carolina in the US, nanotechnology holds the future of medicine with its ability to deliver powerful drugs in tiny, designer packages.

"I was very surprised by how efficiently and well it worked once we got the nanocarrier to those cells," she said.

Initial results were so promising that she had her team keep repeating the experiments, using different cell lines, dosage amounts and treatment times.

It potentially points the way to a new treatment option for patients with certain conditions, such as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), researchers said.

"Glioblastoma multiforme is a devastating disease with no curative options due to several challenges," said Broome.

The brain tumour has a significant overall mortality, in part due to its location, difficulty of surgical treatment and the inability to get drugs through the blood-brain barrier, a protective barrier designed to keep a stable environment within and surrounding the brain, researchers said.

In 40 per cent of cases, standard treatments will extend life expectancy 4 to 7 months, they said.

"It is really a dismal outcome. There are better ways to deliver standard of care," said Broome.

This led researchers to nanotechnology – which is medicine, engineering, chemistry, and biology all bundled together and conducted at the nanoscale, between the range of 1 to 1,000 nanometres.

Nanotechnology allows researchers to work with atoms and molecules that are invisible to the naked eye.

Researchers took what they know about the cancer’s biology and of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), one of numerous growth factor proteins that regulates cell growth and division and is also overexpressed on tumour cells in the brain.

With that in mind, they engineered a micelle that is a phospholipid nanocarrier, "a bit of fat globule," to deliver a concentrated dose of the chemotherapy drug temozolomide (TMZ) to the GBM tumour cells.

"Micelles of a certain size will cross the blood-brain barrier carrying a concentrated amount of TMZ," said Broome.

"The PDGF is used much like a postal address. The micelle gets it to the street, and the PDGF gets it to the house," she said.

This targeting ability is important because researchers have learned that it is likely that the GBM will recur, she said.

The findings were published in the journal Nanomedicine – Future Medicine.