photo: micelle
A modular, multifunctional micelle
created to target cardiovascular
plaque; © UCSB College of
Engineering/ Peter Allen

The treatment is promising for the eventual development of therapies for cardiovascular disease, which is blamed for one third of the deaths in the United States each year. Atherosclerosis, which was the focus of this study, is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease. In atherosclerosis, plaque builds up on the walls of arteries and can cause heart attack and stroke.

"The purpose of our grant is to develop targeted nanoparticles that specifically detect atherosclerotic plaques," said Erkki Ruoslahti, distinguished professor at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "We now have at least one peptide that is capable of directing nanoparticles to the plaques."

The nanoparticles in this study are lipid-based collections of molecules that form a sphere called a micelle. The micelle has a peptide, a piece of protein, on its surface, and that peptide binds to the surface of the plaque.

To accomplish the research, the team induced atherosclerotic plaques in mice by keeping them on a high-fat diet. They then intravenously injected these mice with the micelles, which were allowed to circulate for three hours.

"One important element in what we did was to see if we could target not just plaques, but the plaques that are most vulnerable to rupture," said Ruoslahti. "It did seem that we were indeed preferentially targeting those places in the plaques that are prone to rupture."; Source: University of California, Santa Barbara