Atherosclerosis affects most of us by a certain age, and it is the underlying cause of most cardiovascular diseases. The condition results in arteries being coated with plaques and fatty deposits, as well as being chronically inflamed. While vascular constrictions aren’t good for anyone, it is the thrombi (blood clots) that detach from these formations that tend to cause heart attacks and strokes. Vascular imaging has progressed significantly over the past few decades to give physicians a better ability to spot dangerous vascular calcifications and plaques, but the technology can still only identify large formations.
Now, researchers from the University of Southern California are reporting on new nanoparticles they’ve developed that can stick to unstable calcified structures within vascular lumens and light up while being imaged so one can see precisely where they are.
Importantly, it is critical not only to detect large formations, but also those that feature substantial microcalcifications, which tend to be less stable and can cause the most damage.
The new nanoparticles are designed to seek out hydroxyapatite, a type of calcium that is found within arteries and atherosclerotic plaques. The nanoparticle targeting is extremely accurate and within animals it has been shown to spot atherosclerotic calcifications with impressive specificity. The researchers even tried it on arteries derived from real patients, demonstrating that their nanoparticles work with human tissues.
Reportedly, the new nanoparticles are of very low toxicity and pretty much only bind to their targets, helping to avoid false positives. In the future, the researchers hope to be able to attach drugs to their nanoparticles that can not only spot dangerous calcifications, but also break them up right on the spot.
Study in Journal of Materials Chemistry B: Hydroxyapatite-binding micelles for the detection of vascular calcification in atherosclerosis