My husband, a big science fiction fan, perked up the other day when I told him I was writing a medical science story about nanotechnology. Apparently, nanotechnology - the study and application of extremely small things - has long been big in the world of science fiction. There, authors have used it to create lots of cool-sounding phantasmagorical stuff like the "nanoprobes" used by the Borg in the movie Star Trek: The Next Generation to assimilate individuals into their collective.
I’m not sure how the fictional nanoprobe was supposedly built, but in my real-life story on the modern day use of nanotechnology to design better methods for heart disease treatment, I do describe the creation of "nanobullets" by Stanford researchers. And it's pretty cool.
Jayakumar Rajadas, PhD and his colleagues detailed their work in a scientific paper published this month in the journal Biomaterials. Their idea was to create a new and improved delivery system for the delicate peptide apelin into the heart as a treatment for hypertrophic heart disease, which I discuss in the piece:
In a treatment model similar to giving insulin to diabetes patients, physicians have attempted to treat these heart conditions with doses of apelin. The therapeutic agent is delivered intravenously through to the cardiovascular tissue, but due to its short half-life — the drug is quickly eliminated from the blood plasma — the success of this treatment has been limited.
Rajadas considered the possibility for improving the delivery system of the peptide using nanotechnoloy because it has been used for the past 10 years to stabilize therapeutic agents in the body and target them to specific tissues, he said. In this case, the idea was to protect the quickly degrading apelin peptides with large, stable molecules to help transport them to their target organ - the heart:
The research team developed a novel technique to increase the stability of the fragile apelin peptides by protecting them with a lipid cover that Rajadas calls the 'Trojan Horse' method of delivery. The liposome 'nanocarriers' encapsulates the apelin and sneaks it through the blood to the heart tissue.
The resulting apelin “nanobullets,” as the researchers refer to them, were then delivered through the blood system to the cardiovascular tissue of mice with induced hypertrophic heart conditions. The theory was that the apelin would not be released until it was near the heart tissue.
Researchers then tried it out, shooting the nanobullets into the hearts of mice with hypertrophic heart disease. They delivered two shots over a 14-day period. Results showed that symptoms dramatically improved in the mice that received the shots with the apelin nanobullets when compared to mice shot with saline treatments or even treatments of apelin not protected with the liposome covering.
"Apelin in this form could eventually be used as treatment for humans delivered as a shot rather than intravenously as in the past," Rajadas told me. "The idea is that regular monthly or bimonthly shots could lesson symptoms."