Scientists Develop Nanoparticle Capable of “Eating Away” Arterial Plaque

Atherosclerosis, narrowing of the arteries, is a disorder that results from a buildup of plaque. Researchers at Michigan State University, working together with colleagues from Stanford University, have crafted a nanoparticle that could help restrain this noxious accretion.  Nature Nanotechnology journal published the research.



The nanoparticle acts like a “Trojan Horse”. It, therefore, can be programmed to induce macrophages to “eat away” plaque.

This nanoparticle displayed high selectivity to specific immune cell types. It is this affinity for immune cells that has potential applications in the treatment of atherosclerosis.

Eliminating Arterial Plaque

Michigan State University’s Bryan Smith made this tiny particle in collaboration with other scientists. The research efforts of the associate professor of biomedical engineering concentrated mainly on blocking signaling pathways in macrophages.

In previous research, Smith had focused on the cell surface. However, the current study utilized an intracellular approach. This resulted in promising results.

In particular, the nanoparticle showed high selectivity for monocytes and macrophages. Once inside macrophages, the nanoparticle releases a compound to remove defective cells within the buildup.

“We found we could stimulate the macrophages to selectively eat dead and dying cells – these inflammatory cells are precursor cells to atherosclerosis – that are part of the cause of heart attacks,” said Smith. “We could deliver a small molecule inside the macrophages to tell them to begin eating again.”

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Patients receive the nanoparticle intravenously. These nanotubes contain an SHP1 inhibitor drug. SHP1 inhibits signaling pathways in macrophages enabling immune cells to eat away dead cells and debri in the plaque core.

Thus by removing dead or unhealthy cells within the plaque, this nanoparticle reduces its size and stabilizes it.

Future Trials

This invention could lead to more effective treatment of atherosclerosis, which happens to be a major cause of death in the U.S.

Smith said the nanoparticle has other possible uses apart from the treatment of atherosclerosis as well. Furthermore, the study also offered proof of the striking selectivity and delivery potential of the scientists’ cutting-edge nanomaterial platform, he added.

Already, Smith has handed in a provisional patent application for the platform.

“We demonstrated that nanomaterials were able to selectively seek out and deliver a message to the very cells needed,” said Smith, who expressed a conviction that this is a better approach. “It gives particular energy to our future work, which will include clinical translation of these nanomaterials using large animal models and human tissue tests.”

The researchers plan to start marketing their advanced nanomaterial platform later in 2020.

Smith disclosed that future clinical trials will explore further how nanoparticles can reduce the incidence of heart attacks. He hoped that its high selectivity will significantly reduce the risk of side effects as well.


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