Utilizing DREADDs to Transiently Open the Blood Brain Barrier for Drug Delivery; An Analysis of Atypical Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment Methods Using Virtue Ethics

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-8641-4949
Trivedi, Aparna, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Davis, William, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Price, Richard, EN-Biomed Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Allen, Timothy, EN-Biomed Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Forelle, MC, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

My technical project looked at improving drug access to the brain to treat neurological disorders. My STS project melded my interest in AD with the therapeutic platform my capstone project was based around- I focused on looking at non-standard AD treatments through the framework of virtue ethics.

My technical project is focused on using designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs) to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier to better allow drugs to access brain tissue. DREADDs are comprised of two parts: a genetically engineered receptor and a special molecule that can activate that receptor. DREADDs are currently only used by neuroscientists to study patterns of neuronal firing. My group and I wanted to repurpose it. Our plan was to use a specific DREADD in endothelial cells, the cells that line the blood vessels of the blood-brain barrier. We wanted this DREADD, when activated, to make temporary holes in this blood vessel network to allow drugs access into the brain. Through our research, we found a correlation between activation level of the DREADD and overall resistance of a single layer of endothelial cells (monolayer) in a petri dish (in vitro). We saw that as the activation of the DREADD increased, the monolayer resistance showed a consistent drop. If this technology could be further developed, it could be used to transiently open the blood brain barrier and allow for easier drug access, a task that is currently hard to accomplish.

My STS project used virtue ethics to look at two atypical potential treatment methods for AD- non-pharmacological treatments (NPTs) and my capstone project. NPTs can include activities like gardening and exercise- while these are day-to-day activities for many people, they become exponentially harder for people with AD. Typically, deontology and utilitarianism are the most common ethical frameworks employed in the field of healthcare, but I believe neither one provides a comprehensive way to approach AD care, especially in a time where there are treatment methods besides simply pharmaceuticals. In my project, I explained why I believe virtue ethics is a more open-minded, context-dependent way to view AD treatment, especially opposed to action-based moral theories like deontology and utilitarianism. I hope that analyzing these treatment methods through virtue ethics can one day provide AD patients and family members with insight into which treatment route is best for their individual circumstances.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Virtue ethics, DREADDs, Alzheimer's disease

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering

Technical Advisors: Richard Price, Timothy Allen

STS Advisors: William Davis, MC Forelle

Technical Team Members: Catherine Sklar, Julianna Hitchcock

Issued Date: