Researchers are using nanotechnology to treat heart attack and stroke victims -- a capsule containing nanoparticles that ferry what scientists call a "clot-busting" drug.
The drug-carrying nanocapsule is coated with an antibody that seeks out and targets life-threatening blood clots that have caused a heart attack or stroke. Once the nanocapsule arrives at the clot, it bursts open, releasing the medicine exactly where it's needed.
"We are effectively hijacking the blood clotting system to initiate the removal of the blockage in the blood vessel," said Christoph Hagemeyer, head of the Vascular Biotechnology Laboratory at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia.
Frank Caruso, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Melbourne, also is working on the project.
According to Caruso, the nanotech advance is important because it can pinpoint the delivery of the clot-busting drugs. Other drug delivery systems aren't as exact and can affect healthy tissue, causing serious bleeding.
Today, clot-busting drugs, which are called thrombolytics, generally are administered via an IV.
Hagemeyer called the nanotech "a revolutionary difference" in heart attack and stroke treatment, noting that emergency responders could administer it in the field.
Heart disease, which includes stroke, is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 787,000 people in 2011 alone, according to the Heart Foundation. The Foundation noted that in the U.S. someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds.
Scientists have been using nanotechnology to battle some of the biggest health risks, including heart disease and cancer.
Researchers have worked to use nanoparticles to stick to artery walls and slowly release medicine to battle heart disease, while other scientists have used nanotechnology to build working artificial arteries.
Scientists are doing more than treating just heart disease.
MIT researchers have used nanoparticles to deliver cancer-fighting drugs to lung and breast tumors in mice.
And scientists at Johns Hopkins University are using nanoparticles as a kind of Trojan horse to deliver "death genes" that can kill brain cancer cells that surgery is unable to reach.