Australian researchers have developed a nano-sized capsule that can be delivered to a patient intravenously (into the veins and thus blood) to immediately target and break down the blood clots that can cause strokes and heart attacks.
The device starts working within minutes, and it’s portable, which means that it can be used in emergency situations before a patient gets to the hospital.
“This can be given in the ambulance straight away so you really save a lot of time and restore the blood flow to the critical organs much faster than currently possible,” one of the team, Christopher Hagemeyer from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, told Rachael Brown at ABC News.
Around 80% of all strokes occur when a fatty deposit or blood clot blocks an artery that supplies blood to the brain. If this formation, known as thrombosis, blocks blood flow to the heart, then it can cause a heart attack. The longer the brain or heart are without oxygenated blood, the greater the risk the risk that vital tissues will begin to die, so breaking down the clots as soon as possible is key.
If the team can commercialise their device, it’s set to make a huge difference to many heart attack and stroke patients who don’t actually respond to current treatments or have side effects from them.
According to the University of Melbourne, which was also involved in the development of the device, around 55,000 Australians who experience heart attack or stroke every year cannot use the clot-busting treatments administered by paramedics due to the severe side effects that can cause excessive internal bleeding.
“About half of the people who need a clot-busting drug can’t use the current treatments because the risk of serious bleeding is too high,” said Professor Frank Caruso from the Melbourne School of Engineering.
The new nanocapsule device only releases the medication in areas where a clot is growing exponentially and blocking a vessel.
“The drug-loaded nanocapsule is coated with an antibody that specifically targets activated platelets, the cells that form blood clots,” Professor Christoph Hagemeyer said in a press release. “Once located at the site of the blood clot, thrombin – a molecule at the centre of the clotting process – breaks open the outer layer of the nanocapsule, releasing the clot-busting drug. We are effectively hijacking the blood clotting system to initiate the removal of the blockage in the blood vessel.”
The researchers have been working on the device for the past 5 years and while the results are looking positive, they say it’ll probably be another 6 years before it’s made available to patients.
The results been published in the journal Advanced Materials.