Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Columbia University researchers have developed a microscopic medicine that could be used to help prevent heart attacks caused by atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a buildup of plaque (mainly cholesterol deposits) within the arteries. This thickening of the artery walls decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to vital body organs and extremities, which can lead to severe cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary heart disease (CHD), carotid artery disease, and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries continues to be the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S., and about one half of all strokes in this country are caused by atherosclerosis.
Through preclinical testing, the BWH and Columbia University researchers aimed to demonstrate that medical treatment of atherosclerosis can be significantly improved by significantly improving the precision of treatment. They designed nanometer-sized, biodegradable “drones” that are programmed to travel to the exact area of the artery where treatment is required, and, once there, deliver a precise dose of a special anti-inflammatory medication that promotes healing. The size of the nanomedicine particles – 1,000 times smaller than the tip of a single human-hair strand – helps them to maneuver to the inside of the plaque. The particles’ special surface, designed to stick to fatty deposits, helps to keep them there.
Following five weeks of testing this specially designed nanomedicine, the researchers found that damage to the arteries in the treated areas was significantly repaired and plaque development was stabilized.
Conventional treatment of atherosclerosis with anti-inflammatory medication, on the other hand, is systemic. This means that the anti-inflammatory medication is distributed throughout the body, rather than being delivered directly to the area where treatment is required. A systemic approach not only makes it a challenge to reliably treat atherosclerosis, but also may weaken a patient’s immune system.
“The inflammation-resolving targeted nanoparticles have shown exciting potential not only for the potential treatment of atherosclerosis as described here, but also other therapeutic areas, including wound repair,” says study co-senior author Omid Farokhzad, MD, Director of the Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials at BWH and Harvard Medical School (HMS). “These are exciting times in medicine, and the future of nanomedicine is incredibly bright.”
The study findings were published in the February 18th online issue of Science Translational Medicine.- Chris P.