Nanotechnology allows more effective detection of blocked arteries

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have made breakthrough in new nanoparticle innovation, which may allow doctors to pinpoint when plaque becomes dangerous by detecting unstable calcifications that can trigger heart attacks and strokes, according to a university release on Monday.

The research was published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Journal of Materials Chemistry B.

When atherosclerosis occurs in coronary arteries, blockages due to plaque or calcification-induced ruptures can lead to a clot, cutting blood flow to the heart, which is the cause of most heart attacks. When the condition occurs in the vessels leading to the brain, it can cause a stroke.

“An artery doesn’t need to be 80 percent blocked to be dangerous. An artery with 45 percent blockage by plaques could be more rupture-prone,” said Eun Ji Chung, assistant professor of the USC Department of Biomedical Engineering. “Just because it’s a big plaque doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an unstable plaque.”

Chung said that when small calcium deposits, called microcalcifications, form within arterial plaques, the plaque can become rupture prone.

However, identifying whether blood vessel calcification is unstable and likely to rupture is particularly difficult using traditional CT and MRI scanning methods, or angiography, which has other risks.

The research team developed a nanoparticle, known as a micelle, which attaches itself and lights up calcification to make it easier for smaller blockages that are prone to rupture to be seen during imaging.

The team has tested their nanoparticle on calcified cells in a dish, within a mouse model of atherosclerosis, as well as using patient-derived artery samples provided by a vascular surgeon, which shows their applicability not only in small animals but in human tissues.

Chung said that the next step for the team was to harness the micelle particles to be used in targeted drug therapy to treat calcification in arteries, rather than just as means of detecting the potential blockages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *