MIAMI (AFP) - Tiny nano-particles that act like miniature drones could deliver a knock-out punch to plaque buildup in the arteries, according to an experimental approach described by US scientists on Wednesday.
So far the anti-cholesterol treatment has been tried only in lab mice, while the nanoparticles themselves are in clinical trials for people with cancer.
Many more safety tests lie ahead, but for now scientists are intrigued by the possibility of a new way to attack atherosclerosis, which leads to heart attacks and is a top killer in the United States and other developed nations.
The study led by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Columbia University Medical Centre is published in the Feb 18 issue of Science Translational Medicine.
"This is the first example of a targeted nanoparticle technology that reduces atherosclerosis in an animal model," said co-author Omid Farokhzad, associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
"Years of research and collaboration have culminated in our ability to use nanotechnology to resolve inflammation, remodel and stabilize plaques in a model of advanced atherosclerosis."
For this study, targeted nanomedicines were engineered to carry an anti-inflammatory drug payload, which released therapeutic agents at the target sites where plaque had built up.
Using mice with advanced hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, researchers treated some for five weeks and compared them to untreated mice.
In those that received the nanomedicines, "damage to the arteries was significantly repaired and plaque was stabilised," said the study.
But since mice do not have heart attacks, researchers will not know how effective the approach will be in humans until they try, and those trials could be years away.