Israeli study uses gold particles to ‘seek and destroy’ artery blockages

Bar-Ilan researchers find nanoparticles injected into bloodstream can be used to light up problem areas, help treat atherosclerosis

Gold nanorods inside a cell (YouTube screen capture)
Gold nanorods inside a cell (YouTube screen capture)

Israeli researchers are developing a novel method to treat life-threatening blockages in arteries, using gold nanoparticles to “color” potential problem areas, and possibly even to treat them.

A recent study by scientists at Bar-Ilan University examines the use of gold nanorods to help treat atherosclerosis — a vascular disease in which artery walls thicken over time due to build-up of plaque in the blood vessel. These fatty blockages can eventually cause heart attacks and strokes.

One of the major problems with treating atherosclerosis is the identification of the disease. Researchers are tackling this problem by taking advantage of one of the chief characteristics of atherosclerotic build-ups: they are rich in macrophages, a type of white blood cell that ingests foreign substances. Gold nanorods, meanwhile, have unique optical properties that allow them to be detected using laser scanners.

When injected into the body, the nanoparticles are absorbed by macrophages, essentially lighting up problem areas and allowing a fast, low-risk, non-invasive diagnosis, after which doctors can decide how to best proceed with treatment.

Prof. Dror Fixler, who is leading the research, noted that “tests offered today include ultrasound, CT scans and MRI, but these are costly, not readily available and include ionizing (and thus damaging) radiation. Our test method is non-ionizing.”

Prof. Dror Fixler, Bar-Ilan University (YouTube screen capture)
Prof. Dror Fixler, Bar-Ilan University (YouTube screen capture)

The team is also looking into ways to pair the nanoparticles with high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), also known as “good cholesterol,” which help break down fatty cells in blood vessels clear blockages. Thus the gold particles could potentially be turned into a targeted delivery system to both identify and treat vulnerable plaque areas.

The new study will be presented at the upcoming NanoIsrael 2016 conference, to be held at Tel Avuv University on February 22-23.

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