Liposomes as a shuttle into the brain – improving the safety and delivery of MS drugs

Associate Professor Anne Breustle

Associate Professor Anne Bruestle

Australian National University, ACT

| Better treatments | Neurobiology | Project | 2021 | Investigator Led Research |


Ideally, we want to deliver MS drug therapies directly to the site of inflammation, the brain. This is likely to mean that they have their greatest effect and keep side effects to a minimum. Unfortunately, the body has many processes in place to stop this happening easily and developing ways to deliver drugs straight into the brain is challenging.

Mitoxantrone (MTX) (Novantrone) is a drug that has been registered to treat MS in Australia (and overseas) for many years and is known to be effective in preventing relapses. The use of MTX however, has been limited by significant side effects, such as heart toxicity and leukaemia, which become riskier with each subsequent dose, thereby preventing widespread use in many people living with MS.

In the laboratory, Associate Professor Bruestle and her team have developed a way to package the MTX drug into a fat-based particle called a liposome (LMTX), which may act as a shuttle to take the drug inside the brain. By doing this, the MTX can be delivered to the site of inflammation. Additionally, the serious side effects may be minimised using this technique as the MTX is kept away from healthy tissue and lower levels of the MTX are needed to achieve the same effect.

This type of study is known as a “proof of concept” study (POC), and if successful, the hope is that the technique could be explored in other drug treatments for MS, enabling them to also enter the brain to have their greatest effect and to minimise side effects.

Progress to Date

Associate Professor Anne Bruestle and her team are making significant progress in their project on the use of liposome drug vehicles for treating MS. Initial experiments with liposomal mitoxantrone (LMTX) showed no immediate impact on MS symptoms or relapse frequency. However, ongoing research aims to determine the optimal dose of LMTX that effectively reduces symptoms and relapses. 

The team focused on understanding how LMTX works by studying its interactions with immune cells. They discovered that liposomes selectively interact with specific immune cell populations in the bloodstream and spleen, both in MS models and normal conditions. These cells were reduced during LMTX treatment. Additionally, they observed an increase in liposome-interacting cells in the brain and spinal cord as MS severity worsened. Strong interactions between liposomes and B1 cells, a type of immune cell, were also found in the spleen. 

Furthermore, the researchers confirmed that liposomes can enter the brain and spinal cord, but this delivery depends on inflammation. This indicates that liposomes can effectively transport therapies to these regions during inflammation. 

The team is currently working on determining the lowest effective dose of LMTX in the MS model. They are exploring different strategies, such as reducing liposome quantity or drug concentration per liposome. Additionally, they are investigating the impact of LMTX on various immune cell populations in the blood and brain and spinal cord, as well as studying the interaction between liposomes and different subsets of immune cells. They have also developed protocols to isolate liposome-interacting cells from the brain and spinal cord, which will be vital for future experiments. 

This research has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of MS by using liposome drug vehicles, leading to safer and more effective therapies. 

Updated: 31 March 2023

Updated: 19 January, 2021

Stages of the research process

Fundamental laboratory

Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 10+ years

Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.

Lab to clinic timeline: 5+ years
Clinical Studies
and Clinical Trials

Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 1-5 years

Grant Awarded

  • Project Grant

Total Funding

  • $235,000


  • 3 years

Read More
dr-lucinda-blackDr Phu Hoang

Newsletter subscription

  • Enter your details

Liposomes as a shuttle into the brain – improving the safety and delivery of MS drugs