Researchers explore development of non-invasive therapy to reverse atherosclerosis

Preliminary research presented May 11 at the American Heart Association’s Vascular Discovery: From Genes to Medicine Scientific Sessions 2018, suggests an injection may one day be able to reverse atherosclerosis.

Led by Neel A. Mansukhani, MD, with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, the researchers aimed to develop a non-invasive, non-surgical therapy to stop and reverse atherosclerosis by focusing on the vessel wall with peptide-based nanofibers. The fibers are meant to remove cholesterol deposits from the plaque in the artery walls.

After eight weeks of treatment in mice with atherosclerosis, plaque area in the arteries of the male mice reduced 11 percent and 9 percent in female mice.

The researchers created self-assembling peptide amphiphile nanofibers that targeted areas of plaque. Delivered by intravenous injection, the fibers contained an amino acid sequence that helps dissolve cholesterol.

The nanofibers were tested on modified mice who were fed high-fat diets for 14 weeks, which resulted in the mice exhibiting atherosclerosis. The mice were given biweekly injections of either the nanofibers or saline for eight weeks, the researchers reported.

“It was important that we were able to achieve reproducible results in this model in the lab, so first we wanted to confirm that the therapy actually targeted areas of atherosclerosis,” the researchers said.

Using imaging, the researchers determined the optimal dosage, concentration, binding duration and bio distribution. Researchers observed effects after 24 hours. Medication started dissipating between 48 to 72 hours, before being completely cleared in seven to 10 days.

“[The study] demonstrate that a novel targeted nanofiber binds specifically to atherosclerotic lesions and reduces plaque burden after a short treatment duration,” Mansukhani et al. wrote.

While surgery and stents are effective in the treatment of atherosclerosis, they are highly invasive, do not reverse the disease and can cause damage to the vessel wall. Statin drug therapies also do not reverse the disease.

Mansukhani et al. noted more research is needed before the nanofiber therapy is tested in humans.