Most people don’t hear the word “Atherosclerosis” until it’s too late. Atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries, which is the build-up of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls, is the number one killer of women and men in the United States, according to several studies.
Scientists are currently developing nano-drones that will help prevent heart attacks caused by atherosclerosis. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) have created nanomedicines – 1000 times smaller than the tip of a single strand of human hair – from polymeric building blocks that carry an anti-inflammatory drug.
In the study, which was conducted on mice, the nano drones reach the plaque within hours and slowly release the drug. The nanoparticles use biodegradable, FDA-approved polymers engineered to carry the healing, stabilizing anti-inflammatory peptides. The polymers are designed to break up over time in the body.
Following five weeks of treatment with this method, the study says, damage to the arteries was significantly repaired and plaque was stabilized.
Current treatments have reduced the number of atherosclerosis-related deaths, but it remains a dangerous health problem. However, “this is the first example of a targeted nanoparticle technology that reduces atherosclerosis in an animal model,” says co-senior author Omid Farokhzad, MD, associate professor and director of the Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials at BWH and Harvard Medical School (HMS).
The study admits trials on humans are a long way off and require more potent drugs, but the researchers also expect that better delivery methods of the medicine will be discovered.
“Many researchers are trying to develop drugs that prevent heart attacks by tamping down inflammation, but that approach has some downsides,” says co-senior author Ira Tabas, MD, Richard J. Stock Professor of Medicine (Immunology) and professor of pathology & cell biology at CUMC. “One is that atherosclerosis is a chronic disease, so drugs are taken for years, even decades. An anti-inflammatory drug that is distributed throughout the entire body will also impair the immune system’s ability to fight infection.”