A new “Trojan Horse” nanoparticle that eats away at the plaque that leads to heart attacks, was just developed by scientists at Michigan State University and Stanford University. 

Led by Bryan Smith, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Michigan State University and a team of scientists, they created the nanoparticle which can be directed to eat cell debris and reducing the amount of plaque. The researchers see it as a potential treatment for atherosclerosis, which is the leading cause of heart attacks and death in the U.S. 

The scientists made nanoparticles that find atherosclerotic plaque because of high sensitivity to monocytes and macrophages. Once it’s inside the cell in those plaques, it delivers a drug agent that causes the cell to eat cellular debris.  The diseased and dead cells in the core of the plaque are removed as a result, reducing and stabilizing the plaque.

“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,” Smith said in a press release announcing the results of his work. “We could deliver a small molecule inside the macrophages to tell them to begin eating again.”

Will it reduce the risk of heart attacks?

Future clinical trials on the nanoparticle are expected with the aim of reducing the risk of most types of heart attacks with little side effects because of the selectivity ability of the nanodrug. The work was published in journal Nature Nanotechnology

Smith sees the nanoparticles used beyond atherosclerosis given the team was able to demonstrate that nanomaterials were able to seek out cells a deliver a message to the specific cells it needed to.  “It gives a particular energy to our future work, which will include clinical translation of these nanomaterials using large animal models and human tissue tests. We believe it is better than previous methods,” said Smith.