The Unification of Nanotechnology and Cardiovascular Medicine

by Sneha Jeevan

Medical devices have made great strides within the last decade, becoming smaller, faster and smarter for patients. As the demands and expectations of medicine increases, clinicians are in need of better treatments options that are non-invasive and less expensive than traditional methods. A possible solution? Nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is becoming the technology of choice for modern clinicians, and has revolutionized the way we detect and treat damage to the human body. One of the most important nanotechnology applications has been the creation of nanoscale compounds. Drugs have long been used to treat illness and improve health. Yet many drugs, even those discovered using the most advanced molecular biology strategies, can have life-threatening side effects due to dangerous interactions with other drugs or healthy tissue.

The creation of nanoscale compounds, which are composed of biocompatible materials, have eliminated toxicity issues and side-effects that generally accompany traditional methods of drug delivery. Nanoscale compounds, specifically nanoparticles, are used to reach certain areas of patients’ bodies to improve the treatment outcome by allowing a quicker and more effective drug administration. Because of their miniscule size, nanoparticles have changed medical tools and procedures so that they are more personalized, portable, cheaper and safer. This exciting new technology has recently been involved in the field of cardiology to help detect and treat cardiovascular pathology, and has great potential to decrease the mortality rate of heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is usually caused by atherosclerosis, the process by which plaque accumulates in the arteries. The plaque that builds up is composed of fatty acids, cholesterol and the protein fibrin, which hardens and constricts the blood vessels. This prevents oxygen-rich blood from traveling to and from the heart and body. These plaque buildups, if left untreated, can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Due to the small diameter of the blood vessels in the body, it has historically been difficult for clinicians to remove these plaque deposits. However, the development of gold nanoparticles has offered a new, non-surgical way to reduce a patient’s risk of heart attack and stroke. Due to their comparably easy synthesis and high stability, various gold particles have been studied for their practical uses in drug delivery systems.  

One recent nanoparticle development has the potential to both locate and treat arterial plaque. Researchers from the University of Georgia, Athens, have designed a new gold nanoparticle that can simultaneously deliver medication while breaking down atherosclerotic plaque buildups. The nanoparticle mimics high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), also known as good cholesterol; HDLs are naturally found in the body and remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream. Researches have found ways to decrease the chance of foreign body rejection by placing these nanoparticles on the surface of macrophages, due to the fact that the human immune system accepts macrophages more readily than other foreign bodies. This advanced technology is currently being tested in animals, and researchers hope to begin clinical trials within two years. These nanoparticles could revolutionize the field of cardiology by improving the way clinicians treat CVD.

It is important to recognize why strides in the field of cardiovascular medicine are necessary on a national scale: cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. There has been a decades-long trend food in the U.S. that has led to increased cholesterol and fat levels in food in order to improve flavor. According the American Heart Association, diets high in cholesterol and fats increase the risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, access to healthy foods has similarly declined over the past few decades. This can be exemplified by comparing the price difference between more expensive fruits and vegetables to the less expensive and readily available fast food options. This combined with increases in prevalence of sedentary lifestyles has created an environment where it is easier than ever for atherosclerosis to occur.

Recent technological advances have rapidly expanded our understanding of cardiovascular nanotechnology, specifically of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease in both treatment and detection of the condition. While there are still significant hurdles to overcome, the movement towards nanoscale medical devices is rendering in a new era of medical devices. As researchers continue to consider ways of integrating nanotechnology in the field of medicine, they will hopefully continue to focus on cardiovascular nanoparticles in order to help better the lives of the Americans and people around the world.