Researchers working within the EU-funded NanoMate project are using gold nanoparticles to identify and measure inflammation in diseased blood vessel walls, which is a predictor of heart disease. This method will allow clinicians to identify a person at risk of heart attack at an early stage, so that preventative actions can be taken. Current diagnostic practices detect specific inflammatory markers in the blood, however atherosclerosis also causes the blood vessel walls to become inflamed. However, the NanoMate project’s unique approach involves focusing on inflammation in the blood vessel wall, rather than in the blood itself. “Our research combines nanotechnology with advanced statistical and biomedical research, focused on a clinical application which we hope will lead to a beneficial change in treatment of cardiovascular disease patients,” says Dr Pasquale Maffia of the University of Glasgow, NanoMate project coordinator. Good vibrations The nanoparticles cluster around an inflamed blood vessel wall, and the researchers then shine a light on them, using a technique called surface enhanced Raman scattering. The light causes the nanoparticles to vibrate, and the strength of the vibrations indicates how many nanoparticles, and therefore how much inflammation, is present in the arteries. The method has seen some success in trials using humanised animal models, where pieces of human tissue are engrafted into mice. The team is now preparing to develop the tool at the pre-clinical level, and estimate that they will be working with patients within 5 to 10 years. A key advantage is that the equipment associated with the system is portable, so it could potentially be made accessible to anyone. In the future, the nanoparticles could be customised further to enable the delivery of anti-inflammatory drugs. “The energetic vibrations could be harnessed as a drug release mechanism which could be time-controlled by the flick of a switch,” says Dr Maffia. Communicating the research The project engaged in a wide variety of outreach and dissemination activities to communicate their research to the public. A NanoMate Science exhibit was set up to provide visitors with information about inflammation and heart disease. Many people who visited had been directly or indirectly affected by heart disease, but the researchers noticed that there was a general lack of understanding as to why humans suffer from these diseases, and little was known about how research could improve prevention and treatment. “Through a range of activities we have tried to engage people in science and discovery, communicate the power of knowledge and creativity, cultivate the next generation of scientists and encourage adults to become informed citizens,” comments Dr Gianluca Grassia, recipient of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie individual fellowship. More than 13 000 people visited the NanoMate Science exhibit in June 2017 at the Cheltenham Science Festival and 95 % of the schools that visited the exhibition zone rated it as excellent or good. The Cheltenham Science Festival marked the beginning of a busy educational outreach schedule for the NanoMate Science team, who also took part in The Green Man Festival in Wales in August 2017, the British Science Festival in Brighton in September 2017, Exploration in Glasgow in 2017, etc. Overall, the NanoMate Science team engaged with more than 18 000 people.
NanoMate, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, nanoparticles