Atherosclerosis or atherosis can develop silently over decades without showing any symptoms. When the first signs appear, generally after the age of 40, the situation of arteries is usually already compromised, and the risk of complications, even serious ones, becomes very high. Atherosclerosis is often thought of as a purely cardiac problem when in reality, it can affect arteries anywhere in the body. Atherosclerosis is the final result of the progressive thickening of the arteries, responsible for slowing down the blood flow in the various anatomical sites. We are talking about a complex inflammatory disease with a chronic course, in which lipid plaques (atheromas) are formed inside medium and large-caliber arteries.
The precise cause of atherosclerosis is not known, although many risk factors have been identified: advanced age, diabetes mellitus, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, obesity/overweight, genetic predisposition, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking. So what are the upcoming atherosclerosis treatment options?
Nanotechnology: non-invasive delivery of nanomedicines
A group of scientists at Michigan State University has developed a new technology for the treatment of atherosclerosis: non-invasive delivery of nanomedicines. To put it simply, nanoparticles “gnaw” plaques from the inside, reducing their size. They penetrate the cells and trigger a process of destruction of the surrounding environment. Very little remains of what was before. But it’s all for the best. We are, in fact, talking about special nanoparticles developed and tested by the group of engineers at Michigan State University and Stanford University to free the arteries from atheromas, the fatty deposits in the blood, better known as atherosclerotic plaques, which hinder the correct circulation of blood flow and can reach to cause stroke and heart attack. Currently, the most used therapies are pharmacological ones, with the relative side effects, or surgical ones, with associated risks. The new treatments are a candidate to become a safe and effective alternative to reduce atherosclerotic plaques. The animal results that engage nanomedicines are promising. They prove that a nanoparticle eliminates pieces of plaque-causing heart attacks.
Nanoparticles are a kind of small Trojan horse that can be inserted into the body and target the debris that forms plaques around the heart by reducing them. Thus, nanomedicines are seen as a promising treatment for rare diseases. This would be a very useful potential treatment for atherosclerosis, which in itself can be considered a leading cause of death.
The nanoparticle is characterized by very high selectivity: it practically targets only one type of immune cell, macrophages. Introduced into the latter, it releases a drug that stimulates the cell itself to engulf and eat the cellular debris. In this way, dead or diseased cells in the core of the plaque can be removed (cells that are precursors of atherosclerosis). The same plaque can therefore be reduced and, in a certain sense, stabilized.
The side effects would be minimal thanks to the unprecedented selectivity of this new advanced treatment. Now the researchers plan to experiment with animal models and human tissue for what they believe is an unprecedented method and a breakthrough in atherosclerosis.