Cardiovascular Diseases

Cardiovascular diseases are the most frequent cause of death in the United States, Europe, and the world, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, cardiovascular disease accounts for twice as many deaths as all cancers in the country. Over 13 million people in the United States have coronary heart disease (CHD). Americans suffer approximately 1.5 million heart attacks annually and about half of them prove fatal, according to medical researchers.

To help diagnose and treat heart patients, one group, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University $11.5 million to establish a new research program focused on creating advanced nanotechnologies to analyze plaque formation on the molecular level and to detect plaque at its early stages. Plaques, containing cholesterol and lipids, may build up during the life of blood vessels. When these plaques become unstable and rupture they can block the vessels, leading to heart attack and stroke.

The NHLBI researcher's programs will focus mostly on detecting plaque and pinpointing its genetic causes. The scientists will use three types of nanostructured probes. They include molecular beacons, semiconductor quantum dots, and magnetic nanoparticles. A molecular beacon is a biosensor. A biosensor is an analytical instrument capable of detecting biological molecules. The molecular beacon, only 4 to 5 nanometers in size, will seek out and detect specific target genes in the cells. Each cell in the human body contains about 25,000 to 35,000 genes that determine your traits. Scientists are studying genes to determine what illnesses genes cause.

The light emitted from the beacon will create a glowing marker if the cell has a detectable level of a gene that is known to contribute to cardiovascular disease.

The second type of probe is the semiconductor quantum dots. This is also used to study the molecules of cardiovascular disease. Quantum dot-based probes can be used to study interactions in live cells or to detect diseased cells. These ultrasensitive probes may help cardiologists understand the formation of early stage plaques and dramatically improve detection sensitivity.

The last probe in their research will include the nanostructured probe—magnetic nanoparticles. This probe will detect early-stage plaques in patients. The magnetic nanoparticles will target the surface of cells in a plaque and provide an image of the plaque formation. This technique could become a powerful tool for better disease diagnosis.

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