The use of nanotechnology to treat heart disease offers some exciting possibilities, including the ability to:
The next section provides examples of the different types of research in the use of nanotechnology to treat heart disease that are underway.
Researchers at the University of Santa Barbara have developed a nanoparticle that can deliver drugs to plaque on the wall of an artery. They attach a protein called a peptide to a nanoparticle, which then binds with the surface of the plaque. The researchers plan to use these nanoparticles to deliver imaging particles and drugs to both determine the amount of existing arterial plaque and treat the condition. For more about this, see the article at this link.
Researchers at MIT and Harvard Medical School have attached a different peptide to a drug-carrying nanoparticle. This peptide binds to a membrane that is exposed in damaged artery walls, allowing the nanoparticle to release a drug at the site of the damage. The drug helps prevent the growth of scar tissue that can clog arteries. For more about this method, see the article at this link.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina and Clemson are combining gold nanoparticles with a protein called collagen. If heart valves have the wrong level of collagen in the tissue of the valve it may effect their functioning. Too much collagen makes the valve stiff, while too little collagen makes the valve floppy. Combining gold nanoparticles with collagen changes the mechanical properties of the valve, offering the possibility of repairing defective heart valves without surgery. For more about this, see the article at this link.
Researchers at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London are using a scanning ion conductance microscope (SICM), a new device which helps produce better images of live heart muscle cells than previously possible. They use a nanopipet to insert drugs that activate beta molecules in certain portions of cells. These beta molecules cause the heart to contract. This method helps the researchers understand the differences between damaged and healthy heart muscle cells which could lead to improvements both in the use of current drugs called beta-blockers and in the design of future treatments. For more about this, see the article at this link.
While white blood cells are supposed to protect us from harmful intruders, when they attack LDL molecules they can actually cause plaque deposits on artery walls. Researchers at Rutgers have developed a nanoparticle called a nanolipoblocker that is designed to attach itself to white blood cells to block them from attacking LDL cholesterol molecules. For more about this, see the article at this link.
Lab studies in mice have shown that using nanoparticles to target the delivery of the clot busting drug tPA can reduce the dosage of tPA needed, which may reduce possible side affects, such as internal bleeding. The clot busting drug was attached to a cluster of nanoparticles that break apart in regions of turbulent blood flow, like that found when a blood flow is restricted by a clot.
Nanoparticles that target proteins common to blood clots have been developed to deliver bismuth to clots and unstable plaque in the bloodstream. The bismuth is used to enhance CAT scan images and the technique been demonstrated to provide images of clots in lab tests of mice. Researchers hope to use this technique to identify the location of clots as well as unstable plaque that could break off and block arteries.
Researchers are developing polymer nanoparticles that home in on inflamed tissue such as plaque and dissolve, releasing drugs, in the presence of hydrogen peroxide that is present in the inflamed tissue.
Researchers are using carbon nanotubes to change adult stem cells into a type of cell that may help heal damaged heart tissue.
To help coordinate this type of research, the U.S. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has established four Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology Centers to focus on the use of nanotechnology to diagnosis and treat heart and lung diseases.
One such center is a partnership among 25 scientists from The Burnham Institute, University of California Santa Barbara, and The Scripps Research Institute. For more information about this research group see their website at this link.
A second center includes researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Broad Institute . For more information about this research group see their website at this link.
Another NHLBI Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology Center includes scientists from Emory University School of Medicine and Georgia Institute of Technology. For more information about this research group see their website at this link.
The fourth NHLBU funded Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology Center includes scientists from Washington University in Saint Louis, University of California at Santa Barbara and University of California at Berkeley. For more information about this research group see their website at this link.
The latest newsletter (winter 2010) for the Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology indicates that there will be significant changes in the program, see the quote below:
"The PEN Programs are expected to change substantially with the awarding of new PEN centers over the next five years, due to shifts in research foci and an emphasis on clinical translational work, with support via a contract mechanism. "
We look forward to the results of the clinical work they are planning. You can read the PEN newsletter at this link.
Compiled by Earl Boysen of Hawk's Perch Technical Writing, LLC and UnderstandingNano.com. You can find him on Google+.