Using nanoparticles to prevent heart attacks and strokes

Statins are drugs that have several effects, but are primarily known for decreasing cholesterol synthesis by the liver and decreasing the LDL (bad) cholesterol level in the blood.

Statins inhibit an enzyme that normally allows the liver to produce cholesterol. The statin also causes the liver cells to draw LDL out of the bloodstream.

But statins also work directly in blood vessels as outlined below. In arteries (like the coronary arteries that supply the heart), statins can decrease local inflammation, help keep plaque stable, decrease blood clot formation, and help protect the endothelial cells (cells that line the artery) in the vessel wall.

Photo courtesy of Mt. Sinai: "Mount Sinai's novel HDL nanoparticle (red), loaded with a statin drug, specifically targets and locally treats inflammatory macrophage cells (green) hiding inside high-risk plaque within blood vessels."

Photo courtesy of Mt. Sinai: “Mount Sinai’s novel HDL nanoparticle (red), loaded with a statin drug, specifically targets and locally treats inflammatory macrophage cells (green) hiding inside high-risk plaque within blood vessels.”

Over time, a complex series of events occurs in many arteries. These events can lead to heart attacks. A part of the artery wall (its endothelium), cholesterol, macrophages, chemical mediators, calcium and other components work to produce plaque. Plaque is a deposit that gradually builds up in the arteries. Sometimes plaque can rupture (crack) and the fractured surfaces can activate platelets leading to a blood clot. This clot blocks the artery and stops blood flow. The area of the heart that is deprived of blood begins to die. If the clot can be removed quickly, heart damage may not occur or be minimal.

Currently, the goal is to get rid of the clot as fast as possible using either a special type anticoagulant, or doing a somewhat limited surgical intervention and placing a stent.

A sizable number of patients who have a heart attack will have another heart attack relatively soon after the first. This happens because of inflammation – the inflammation that continues in the arteries. This can occur even when a patient is taking an oral statin. The statin, taken by mouth, will lower cholesterol levels, as described above, but has limited effect in the plaque-laden arteries themselves.

Researchers have come up with a possible solution using nanotechnology.

They’ve made HDL (good cholesterol) molecules that have a statin attached to them. Once the clot has been cleared, the HDL-statin complex is injected intravenously. The complex moves through the bloodstream and gets to the macrophages that are active in the plaque. The HDL binds in the area and the statin diffuses out. The local application of the statin significantly decreases inflammation in the area. And it helps to stabilize the remaining plaque. After the IV dose, the patient would continue on an oral statin to help keep LDL low to prevent future heart attacks.

So far this technique has only been used in mice, but it has shown promising results. If clinical studies in humans are successful, this HDL-statin complex may be a tool to help prevent a repeat heart attack after an initial one. Additionally, this same technique could also be used to help prevent strokes that can occur via a similar mechanism taking place in arteries that supply the brain.

And, perhaps, in the future, a dose of the nanoparticle can be given prophylactically, to prevent heart attacks and strokes in people who are at increased risk, but have no yet had one.  You can read more on the new technique here.

Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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  • mereside

    Systemic enzymes can help control inflammation in the arteries.

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  • Dang, and I thought it was the X-first Lady of Nigeria—again, trying to give me an in to her frozen funds in Zurich.

  • Statins are terrible!

  • Silver_Witch

    They are tricky these bots….

  • I just don’t get why they think writing it in that funky way, that you can’t even read, and that you can clearly tell it’s spam, possibly helps. Unless of course they’re link-wh*ring, which is what I now suspect they’re doing. They’re hoping no one deletes it, then they have a link up at a high-value web site pointing them, which helps with google.

  • Silver_Witch

    Learn to spell….

  • Silver_Witch

    Oh my Goddess Nicho…I did not mean the side-effects were phony at all. My companion was put on statins and attacked a neighbor of ours in a rage that no one could explain and was completely NOT IN KEEPING with his nature…the doctors called it Statin Rage. I put it in quotes because the doctors are not sure if it is actually a reaction to statins on the cholesterol in the brain, or a reaction when combined with other medications.

    And the doctors kept doing the finger quotes every time I tried to get them to say he should NEVER take them again (as his stupid GP wanted him back on them because of the stroke risk or something crazy like that)

    It was horrible and frightening and he was in the hospital for several weeks before he was normal again. As a side note, the rage seems to affect men more than women and they think they have evidence that it creates/magnifys/intensifies dementia in women.


  • Julianna David


    ☮☮☮☮ ☮☮☮☮☮ ☮☮️☮☮ ☮☮︀☮ ☮☮☮But as long as Big Pharma has drugs to sell, you will see “research” that shows their need and effect.

  • Lthomas320

    Maybe because, after all, side effects are really, simply effects . . .?

    I upvoted your comment!

  • nicho

    Why did you put “side effects” in quotation marks as it the side effects were phony? My doctor put me on statins, and within two weeks, I felt as if I had been run over by a truck. No matter which statin they tried, it was the same thing. I read an interesting article that claimed that cholesterol wasn’t the culprit, but rather a marker for the underlying problem which is inflammation. It’s the inflammation that causes cardiac problems — and produces cholesterol. Taking drugs to lower cholesterol, the article said, merely treated a symptom and not the cause of the problem. You’re right. It is confusing. But as long as Big Pharma has drugs to sell, you will see “research” that shows their need and effect.

  • Silver_Witch

    This sounds like wonderful news…thanks for the update. Cholesterol is so confusing, we need it, but it can be bad. And Statins cause some people to act irrationally…maybe because of the connection to cholesterol in the brain? Maybe this nanotechnology will be good for people who can not take it because of the “side-effects”.

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