Tag Archives: Blood vessel

Nanoparticles in contrast agent “see” blood vessels better

Interactions of nanoparticles with biological ...
Interactions of nanoparticles with biological molecules are facilitated by ligands on nanoparticle surfaces. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wouldn’t it be nice if doctors didn’t have to use invasive tests such as heart catheterization to tell if any of your arteries are clogged? Heart caths are not fun – and they carry their own set of risks.

I’m happy to say they’re working on it. Just saw this report on an NIH-funded study using nanoparticles as part of a contrast agent to help doctors visualize the state of your blood vessels much more accurately. A Temple University bioengineer has developed a method for “linking polyphenols, which are very strong antioxidants, to polymers that can self-assemble into nanoparticles.”

The coolest part is that the polymers on the outside get destroyed when they come in contact with arterial plaques (the stuff that can block circulation and cause strokes or heart attacks). Then the contrast agent, including its antioxidants, is released when the polymers dissolve.

The study is two years long. If this works, it could save a lot of people a lot of suffering. Read more here.

P.S. Not biomed but still cool. Engineers have found a way to recycle those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags into practical nanomaterials.

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Inhaled nitric oxide can help prevent stroke damage

PET image shows blood flow in the brain. Texts...
Blood flow in the brain - Image via Wikipedia

Stroke is the #3 killer in the U.S. and other industrialized countries. Plus, the death of brain cells as a result of a stroke can induce disability at one level or another across a critical range of human functions—speech, movement, thought processing, writing, etc.

Nitric oxide (NO) doesn’t normally affect blood flow in the brain. But now a few studies have shown a stroke can change that. Inhaling nitric oxide with an oxygen/air mix actually increases blood flow into areas of the brain where arterial blood was blocked during the stroke. They’ve confirmed this phenomenon in two studies in mice and one with large animals.

Another accomplishment for NO, this miraculous substance we produce in our bodies. Read a few more posts about  nitric oxide here.

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Nitric oxide: Signs of becoming a magic bullet?

Sickle cells characterize sickle cell anemia, ...
Image via Wikipedia

They’ve found another surprising use for nitric oxide: pain relief for sickle cell anemia (SCA) patients. Pain is usually the main reason sickle cell anemia patients are admitted to the hospital—and by the time they get to that stage, doctors are way behind on addressing the problem.

Sickle cell anemis is an inherited disease in which blood cells take on an abnormal shape:

“Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped and look like doughnuts without holes in the center. They move easily through your blood vessels. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin), an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Sickle cells contain abnormal hemoglobin that causes the cells to have a sickle, or crescent, shape. These cells don’t move easily through your blood vessels. They’re stiff and sticky and tend to form clumps and get stuck in the blood vessels. (Other cells also may play a role in this clumping process.)”

Pain is typically due to the fact that the sickle-shaped blood cells are not passing through the circulatory system at the normal pace. They tend to bunch up and cause pain at the site of the backups. as well as lead to “serious infections, and organ damage.”

Since nitric oxide tends to expand the blood vessels, you’d think it might help by letting the blockages flow more freely, but scientists are speculating that inhaling nitric oxide may also affect the hemoglobin directly, restoring normal shape and charge to affected cells. “The more normal negative charge helps cells repel each other, melts sticky polymers and may prevent new ones from forming,” according to Dr. C. Alvin Head, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine.  In fact, he thinks “one of nitric oxide’s usual duties in the body is to help prevent clot formation.”

This doc thinks that once more research is done to confirm exactly how this NO treatment works for SCA, we might get to the point of giving SCA patients nitric oxide inhalers to prevent their own pain from requiring hospitalizations.

So, okay, I’m going to go out on a completely untested limb here. Since the first line of early defense when someone’s having a stroke (a clot somewhere in the body blocks blood flow to the brain) is to inject a clot-busting drug known as TPA, wonder if it makes sense that some day, instead of systemic drugs like coumadin, we might be able to give people nitric oxide inhalers to keep the blood thin and help prevent stroke. Of course, then we’d have to give people a way to measure their INR (a number telling you how thin your blood is) at home. Right now the only ways are: 1) get a blood draw and have it sent to a lab, or 2) get a finger stick and test it right in the office with a special machine. Hey, we educate diabetics to test their blood and adjust their diet for themselves. Perhaps this nitric oxide idea will take hold one day for heart patients and others who need blood thinners.

And here’s a really wild thought. Red wine helps promote the production of nitric oxide in the bod—it’s a natural blood thinner. And if you drink it regularly, you don’t need as much coumadin. Is there ever a time when it isn’t better to take less of a drug (except of course unless alcohol of any kind is contraindicated for other reasons)?

So maybe one day getting your INR (blood thinness measurement) to the “therapeutic” stage (whatever your doctor says it needs to be) will be a case of testing at home and then toasting at home with your glass of red wine! Now that sounds like a magic bullet I could get into.

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Nitric oxide–the good, the bad and the incomprehensible

Three-dimensional model of NO.
Image via Wikipedia

It’s amazing to me that this one substance, nitric oxide—perhaps it’s not unique in this—is cited as a godsend in one report and a disaster in another. And the record on both sides continues to grow. Check these two Google news items out:

Coffee is ‘good for the heart’, new research finds
It is thought chemicals in coffee improve heart health by preventing damage caused by oxygen molecules and blocking harmful nitric oxide.


Cardiff Sports Nutrition Relaunches BSN No Xplode Bodybuilding Supplement
“But one thing our customers kept asking for was No Xplode, which is the most powerful and most effective nitric oxide supplements out there.

How can the same substance be both harmful and incredibly valuable? We find this strange dichotomy wherever we look with nitric oxide. I think I wrote an earlier post about moderation in all things applying to nitric oxide as well. But perhaps more to the point is, usefulness is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, user.

In the case of the bodybuilder the benefit might be one you and I aren’t that excited about. But it’s real for them: “The first is that it allows them to achieve that elusive ‘pump’ in the gym on a consistent basis. Without nitric oxide supplements, even when bodybuilders managed to achieve that vein popping, engorged look, it would always fade within hours. With No Xplode, however, the body continues to produce nitric oxide throughout the day, which means the bodybuilder’s muscles continue to look rock hard all day long. It’s really incredible.”

Vein-popping? Engorged? Hey, to each his own.

And as for the other one—about moderate coffee consumption “blocking harmful nitric oxide”—your guess is as good as mine on whether this study is meaningful. They talk about the psychological effects of drinking coffee in a relaxed atmosphere, and how diet (the  study refers to Greek folks) is a strong influence, etc. One of these days I’ll figure out why nitric oxide—considered a vasodilator and all-around beneficent influence on blood vessels—is strangely considered a culprit in stiffening blood vessels among elderly people.

Ah, science. Don’t you love its mysteries and inconsistencies?

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