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MRI Nanoparticle Pinpoints Cardio Plaques

February 11, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Cardiac Imaging
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A new nanoparticle made from a plant virus makes individual blood vessel plaques show up on MRI scans—a big step toward being able to forecast imminent heart attacks and strokes in time for treatment.

The nanoparticle, derived from the tobacco mosaic virus, forms the basis of a contrast agent that binds to plaques. The key to its effectiveness is the shape. Most nanoparticles are spheres, but this one is a rod. The researchers modified the virus surface to carry peptides that stick to plaques, including those that are just in the process of developing.

Xin Yu, ScD, a professor of biomechanical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, explained:

The binding allows the particle to stay on the site longer, whereas the sheer force is more likely to wash away a sphere, due to its high curvature.

Dr. Yu was quoted in a university news release. She is a co-author of an article about the research published online last week in Nano Letters.

The virus also carries two contrast materials: near-infrared dyes for optical scanning and gadolinium ions for MRI. Because the nanoparticles are so precisely engineered to latch on to plaques, imaging requires much less contrast agent than usual—400 times less than a typical MRI scan would need.

The researchers are now focused on the next step: trying to find biomarkers that distinguish stable plaques (which require no treatment) from those that are vulnerable to rupture. If such biomarkers can be identified, then the researchers can tweak their nanoparticles to flag only the unstable plaques—the ones that might trigger a heart attack or stroke.

“Our understanding of vulnerable plaques is incomplete,” Dr. Yu said, “but once we can diagnose vulnerable plaques from stable plaques, it will be a paradigm shift in diagnosis and prognosis.”

Related CME seminar (up to 12 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Imaging

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