Nanomaterials get to the heart of the matter

Having a heart of gold could have new meaning if research led by a team of USC scientists hits paydirt.

The scientists are investigating how injections of nano-sized rods of gold might improve the function of faulty heart valves while eliminating the need for corrective surgery.

“Cardiac valves can become too stiff or too floppy and the heart has to work harder,” said Edie Goldsmith, an associate professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy. “Valve replacement surgery is an option, but we want to see if we can alter the physical structure and behavior of faulty valves with nanomaterials only.”

Goldsmith and mechanical engineering associate professor Sarah Baxter are collaborating with former University chemistry professor Cathy Murphy and Clemson University bioengineering professor Delphine Dean, supported by a two-year exploratory grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Heart, Lung and BloodInstitute.

“We’ve learned that gold nanomaterials like to associate with collagen, a structural protein,” Goldsmith said. “There is too much collagen in stiff valves and not enough in floppy valves. We think that the nanomaterials can alter the mechanical properties of the collagen in beneficial ways.”

The scientists have found they can modify the nano-sized gold particles with polymers creating a positive or negative surface charge that affect collagen assembly. When exposed to the nanomaterials, collagen production by fibroblasts is altered as is the phenotype of the cells.

“We want to measure the mechanical properties of collagen-fibroblast-nanoparticle constructs to see how the nanomaterials might create positive changes in the cardiac valves,” Goldsmith said.

The implications of their research go beyond cardiac valve repair: the researchers plan to test the use of nanomaterials in wound healing and cancer.

“We also want to see if the nanomaterials could be used to manipulate the matrix around a tumor,” she said. “You could then isolate the tumor and keep the cancer cells from spreading.”  

Source: University of South Carolina; News Release January 19, 2010

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