How Nanotechnology Can Help Heal Hearts

Nanotechnology is especially suited to medicine because nature operates at not even a micro, but a nano scale synapses, the extracellular spaces between neurons that exchange massive amounts of information per second are approximately only 20-40 nanometres (nm) wide. The typical largest coronary artery, which supplies oxygen-rich blood to the heart, barely measures an inch in diameter.

Nanotechnology works with this natural nanoscale to deliver better healthcare results with fewer risks and side effects in a shorter span of time. It uses finer instruments, minimally invasive procedures and more efficient drug delivery systems to unblock blood vessels and repair tissues. This aspect of nanotechnology is especially useful and can reduce the risks associated with many invasive procedures, including cardiac care protocols.

Angioplasty is a procedure to open narrowed or blocked coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. During an angioplasty, a balloon catheter is guided into the affected artery; the balloon may be ‘blown up’ a few times to widen the diameter of the artery. Often a coronary artery stent, a small, metal mesh tube that expands inside the artery, is placed during or immediately after angioplasty to help prevent the artery from closing up again. A drug-eluting stent, now the norm, has medicine embedded in it that helps prevent the artery from closing in the long-term.

So far, so good. But this is where we run into a hiccup.  One of the biggest problems with current drug-eluting stents is Paclitaxel, the very drug they carry. Clinical trials show toxicity associated with Paclitaxel and increased chances of thrombosis, a dangerous event linked with heart attacks and strokes. Cardiologists remain conflicted over the use of Paclitaxel. A possible solution to Paclitaxel could be an alternate, safer drug, which is small enough at the molecular level to be bioavailable and can also be introduced in the artery in a short span of 35-40 seconds. Keep the stent in the artery any longer than this razor-thin span and you risk complications. Sirolimous is one such drug, but the biggest problem with Sirolimous is that it is slow on the uptake.

It took years of research by a dedicated core team of doctors, surgeons, pharmacists and chemists to finally put together the puzzle. And when all the pieces locked in place, the answer was perfect in its simplicity – a nanotechnology-enabled polymer-free drug-eluting stent system, especially adapted to carry Sirolimous, a far safer and hypoallergenic drug than Paclitaxel.


Nanoparticles From Air Pollution Travel Into Blood To Cause Heart Disease

Inhaled nanoparticles – like those released from vehicle exhausts – can work their way through the lungs and into the bloodstream, potentially raising the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to new research part-funded by the British Heart Foundation. The findings, published today in the journal ACS Nano, build on previous studies that have found tiny particles in air pollution are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, although the cause remains unproven. However, this research shows for the first time that inhaled nanoparticles can gain access to the blood in healthy individuals and people at risk of stroke. Most worryingly, these nanoparticles tend to build-up in diseased blood vessels where they could worsen coronary heart disease – the cause of a heart attack.

It is not currently possible to measure environmental nanoparticles in the blood. So, researchers from the University of Edinburgh, and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, used a variety of specialist techniques to track the fate of harmless gold nanoparticles breathed in by volunteers. They were able to show that these nanoparticles can migrate from the lungs and into the bloodstream within 24 hours after exposure and were still detectable in the blood three months later. By looking at surgically removed plaques from people at high risk of stroke they were also able to find that the nanoparticles accumulated in the fatty plaques that grow inside blood vessels and cause heart attacks and strokesCardiovascular disease (CVD) – the main forms of which are coronary heart disease and stroke – accounts for 80% of all premature deaths from air pollution.


It is striking that particles in the air we breathe can get into our blood where they can be carried to different organs of the body. Only a very small proportion of inhaled particles will do this, however, if reactive particles like those in air pollution then reach susceptible areas of the body then even this small number of particles might have serious consequences,”  said Dr Mark Miller, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh who led the study.