A Moment of Science

Nanotech Plaque Busters

We all indulge in fried foods once in a while, so scientists are trying to find a way to help combat bad cholesterol.

french fries and a burger served at a truck stop

Photo: onlinehero (flickr)

Eat too much of that admittedly yummy stuff over time, and there's a good chance that you'll find yourself in a head-to-head battle with cholesterol.

French fries, potato chips, and other deep-fried foods are dripping with saturated fat.

Eat too much of that admittedly yummy stuff over time, and there’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself in a head-to-head battle with cholesterol. When LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) builds up in the arteries, it creates plaque, a hard, brittle substance that can clog arteries and result in stroke and heart disease.

However, we’re not completely at the mercy of plaque build-up. Scientists have been experimenting with fumagillin, an antibiotic known to stop the growth of blood vessels that nourish arterial plaque. There’s a downside to fumagillin, though. When taken at the doses needed to treat serious plaque build up, it can cause brain damage.

The challenge for scientists, then, is to find a way to administer enough fumagillin to take out plaque without damaging the brain.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found a potential solution in nanotechnology. Using microscopic nanoparticles, or very, very small spheres, the researchers have devised a way to deliver small but effective doses of fumagillin directly to where blood vessels feed artery-clogging plaque. In a study on rabbits with clogged arteries, the scientists used nanoparticles to deliver doses of fumagillin 50,000 times lower than a regular dose. The nano-delivered medicine worked just as well, reducing the growth of plaque-sustaining blood vessels by up to eighty percent.

Using fumigillin in targeted doses to treat humans is still several years away. With further tests, though, scientists are moving closer to combating plaque by using smaller doses to achieve big results.

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