Cardiovascular diseases are still one of the deadliest killers in the world, with statistics even worse than cancer. In countries like the US, where more than 10 percent of the population has been diagnosed with a heart disease, it is a serious cause for concern. And while current treatment really only brings short-term effects, the new emerging area of nanomedicine is looking to get right down to the cause. The proposition is simple – to destroy waxy plaques in blood vessels with targeted nanomissiles.
Nanoparticles are tiny in comparison to red cells in our bloodstream, but they have already made a huge difference under experimental conditions. They are designed to carry molecules that break down clots and clean arteries, enabling natural free flow in the bloodstream. This approach of active substance being carried on a nanoparticle is already used in cancer treatment, but works on systems agaist cardiovascular disease have only just started. “Some nanoparticles home in on the plaques by binding to immune cells in the area, some do so by mimicking natural cholesterol molecules and others search for collagen exposed in damaged vessel walls. Once at the location of a plaque, either the nanoparticles themselves or a piggybacked drug can do the cleanup work”, reports ScienceNews.
We are still ways off picking up preventative cardiovascular nanomedicine from our local pharmacies, but mice have shown significant results in the first reported tests, reaching the blockage decrease of 37%.
Furthermore, one of the plaque-targeting nanoparticles that is now used to treat rheumatoid arthritis has severe side effects such as vomiting and hair loss. Being able to target this substance to a specific area in the body would enable the use of lower volume at the same effectiveness. With side effects diminished, this drug could be comfortably used by more people than just those who need it desperately.
But before we all get really excited, we should remind ourselves that cardiovascular nanoparticles have only been tested on animals thus far, and although no signs of toxicity have been found, it remains a concern for such a novel drug. “I really don’t foresee that you would start preventively treating patients who don’t have symptoms with nanoparticles,” says Willem Mulder, a nanomedicine researcher at the University of Amsterdam and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “But to take a person who’s hospitalized after a heart attack and stick a needle in their arm and infuse nanoparticles, that’s not hard.”