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Engineering Nanomaterials to Deliver Precise Treatments for Heart Disease

Approach targets inflammatory cells involved in atherosclerosis

Northwestern University researchers have demonstrated an enhanced approach to using nanomaterials to target inflammatory cells involved in atherosclerosis. The findings, published in the journal ACS Nano, could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease.

Evan ScottThe study was led by Evan Scott, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and a member of the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology. Edward Thorp, assistant professor of pathology in the Feinberg School of Medicine, was a co-author of the paper.

Atherosclerosis, the hardening of arteries due to a buildup of plaque, is a chronic inflammatory condition with limited therapies. As such, there’s been much interest in developing novel nanomaterials that might directly target key immune cells associated with atherosclerosis, and serve as platforms for diagnostic imaging and more precise delivery of treatment.

In the current study, a team of scientists demonstrated for the first time that tweaking the nanostructure morphology  — aspects of the material’s form, shape and size — while maintaining the same surface chemistry led to enhanced targeting of dendritic cells, a cell population that plays a role in atherosclerosis, as well as a variety of other pathologies.

Specifically, under the investigators’ mouse model, polymersomes — a type of artificial vesicle in a sphere shape — were found to be significantly more efficient at targeting dendritic cells in atherosclerotic lesions, compared to two other structures studied.

The findings have important indications for the design of future nanomaterials, underscoring the idea that morphology can be modified to improve targeting in drug delivery.

Scott is also a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award grant 1DP2HL132390-01, American Heart Association grant 14SDG20160041, Chemistry of Life Processes Institute Postdoctoral Fellows Program, the Louis A. Simpson and Kimberly K. Querrey Center for Regenerative Nanomedicine Catalyst Award, National Institutes of Health Predoctoral Biotechnology Training Grant T32GM008449.