Blasting Blood Clots with Nanoparticles

Photo by Nathanael Boehm on Flickr
Alright, there’s nothing nice about blood clots…except, perhaps, the satisfaction derived from blasting them apart. In line with this, creative researchers at Harvard have devised a new approach to do just that. They’re using biodegradable nanoparticles (literally, tiny particles) to get the job done.
So what exactly is involved?  First, these nanoparticles are coated with a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator, which is commonly used on its own to treat stroke patients. The twist?  These coated nanoparticles are then lumped together like a fluffy snowball and sent hurtling through the blood stream. Just like a snowball, the cluster of nanoparticles stay packed together until they hit a wall, or in this case, a blood clot. Once that happens, the nanoparticles disperse over the problem area and deliver the drug. 
The great thing about this approach is that it allows for the use of lower drug dosages to treat patients. This is because the “snowball” only breaks apart, and thus takes effect, where the clot is. It even works in blood vessels that are only partially clogged. Think of when you use your thumb to block the water from a garden hose – the water shoots out more forcefully. Well, the blood near a clot does the same. This force is enough to break up the cluster of nanoparticles and deliver the medicine where it’s needed most. Though this research is still in its infancy, further developments could soon lead to treatments in patients other than mice.

About the author

Melissa Carmen Cheung, PhD

Passionate about sharing science with the public in a fun and accessible way, Melissa is a Medical Communications professional who earned her Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Toronto. Though her research focused on the design of novel cancer therapeutics, Melissa is intrigued by all facets of science. Her goal in life is to captivate people with the same excitement she feels for science.