Drones deployed to fight heart disease

Specialists at Harvard Medical School have been researching the effectiveness of nanodrone therapy in treating patients suffering from atherosclerosis, a condition caused by a clogging of the arteries due to an accumulation of fatty substances (plaques).

The study, conducted over the course of five years, first focused on the development of nanoparticles and their optimisation in order for them to carry a payload of anti-inflammatory therapeutic biomolecules.

More recently their efficacy has been tested on different types of arterial inflammation, although trials investigating the effects of medicine carried by drones have only involved mice.

The main concept is pretty simple: nanoparticles were designed to have a targeting molecule on their surface that binds to collagen.

This molecule, a small peptide, was identified in the past as capable of binding to human Collagen IV – one of the most abundant proteins that cover the inner lining of blood vessels.

This protein becomes exposed at sites of vascular injury, such as around an atherosclerotic plaque. The nanoparticles can then use the leaks created by this exposure to enter the plaque and stick to the underlying collagen proteins, releasing their therapeutic payload locally.

Asked about the results of the research, Dr Nazila Kamaly, who works at the Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials at Harvard Medical School in Boston and is the lead author of the research, said: “The nanoparticles can circulate in the blood until they become trapped inside the atherosclerotic plaques. They have a protective coating in the form of a hydrophilic polymer [a large molecule that dissolves in water] that helps the nanoparticles circulate in the blood longer and to shield them from the cells of the immune system as much as possible. The nanoparticles are considered safe since they are made up of biodegradable materials.”

The nanoparticles were administered once a week for five weeks in the study, with significant results obtained: “We managed to show significant changes in the architecture of the plaques and these findings are very exciting in pointing us towards the next direction on our quest to find novel and improved therapies to treat cardiovascular diseases,” Dr Kamily said.

According to the NHS, coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the UK with nearly 73,000 deaths each year. This new research could prove to be revolutionary for patients suffering from CHD.

Although yet to be conducted on human patients, Dr Kamaly remains very optimistic about the research: “It takes a long time to get new treatments into patients, on average it can take between 10-15 years to see new medicines on the market. We are still at the pre-clinical stage of our investigations and hope to see our work progress to first human clinical trials in 2-3 years time.”

 

Image by Army Medicine via Flickr