Carbon Nanotube Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases

By: Tony Wang

Image Credit: Flickr @ Geoff Hutchison

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s leading cause of death, with almost eighteen million people dying from it every year. To put this astronomically large number into perspective, that’s a third of all global deaths. To make matters worse, the frequency of this disease is 100% in people over sixty-five. The only difference between these cases is their severity.

Cardiovascular disease is caused by the build-up of wax, cholesterol, fats, and other materials on artery walls. This material is called plaque. Severe plaque build-up can lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. The build-up of plaque is caused by many factors, the most common ones being a poor diet and lack of exercise. Furthermore, once this plaque is built up, it’s incredibly difficult for your body to get rid of it, as plaque has a chemical “cloak” around itself that keeps the body from viewing it as a threat.

The current treatments for cardiovascular diseases are medications to lower cholesterol levels or blood pressure, but these treatments have limited efficacy. Other treatments focus on alleviating the symptoms of plaque build up, but do not treat the underlying issues. Newer treatments try to use antibodies to kill plaque, but these antibodies end up also killing healthy tissues, which lead to lots of other health complications. In other words, all current treatments are not precise enough for the job. However, there have been some new, quite promising, advancements in the battle against cardiovascular disease. One of them is the result of the hard work of a team of researchers from Stanford, who have been trying to use carbon nanotubes to treat cardiovascular diseases.

Carbon nanotubes are essentially rolled-up sheets of graphene. Graphene is a layer of carbon atoms. And so carbon nanotubes are just a single layer of carbon atoms rolled up into a tube. It has all the properties of graphene, except in a tube form. They were discovered in 1983 by two independent research teams. As of recently, carbon nanotubes have been receiving a lot of attention within the medical community for their drug-delivering ability. To treat cardiovascular disease, researchers have developed biocompatible carbon nanotubes. These nanotubes are loaded with molecules that turn off the plaque’s cloaking signals, which allows the body’s natural antibodies to fight off plaque. Here’s how they work.

These carbon nanotubes are carried by white blood cells, which carry them to the areas where with large build ups of plaque.

Image Credit: Flickr @ Tylana

The carbon nanotubes then stimulate the body’s macrophages, causing them to eat up the artery’s plaques. This reduces plaque growth. Researchers tested this on mice, and it reduced the quantity of plaque by 40% in both male and female mice. Since the carbon nanotubes only removed the cloaking mechanisms of plaques, they did not damage any of the mices’ other organs. Currently, researchers hope to inject the carbon nanoparticles into the human body through an IV, which would allow the nanoparticles to travel straight into the arteries.

The future of carbon nanoparticle treatment seems extremely promising, as it could not only act as the silver bullet of cardiovascular diseases, but could also lead to the development of permanent treatments for countless other diseases.


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What Did You Learn?


1. How did scientists attach the molecule that turns off the cloaking mechanism to the carbon nanotube?

These specific chemical molecules were added to the carbon nanotubes through a process called pi-stacking, which allows scientists to choose how much and how powerful the molecules are. This method was first used in 2007, and has been used worldwide ever since. Pi-stacking essentially forms covalent bonds between the chemicals and the carbon nanotubes, which bond very easily to different molecules.

2. What happens to the nanotubes after they have done their jobs?

Carbon nanotubes are actually eliminated by immune cells in a matter of weeks. These experiments were carried out in 2010 and 2016, and have shown that the body can naturally break down carbon nanotubes because of their chemical properties and miniscule size.

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