40-year-old Brian Smith came to MSU in late 2018 from Stanford University, where he and several other extremely intelligent people found out they can direct nanoparticles to tell cells to absorb and eat arterial debris that can cause heart attacks.
He says their tiny Trojan horses “can reduce the need for shunts, stents and other drugs.”
Assuming it works, it’s probably ten years from real life-saving.
As Smith and his colleagues continue the difficult process of testing their creation and bringing it to market, it’s a great time to wonder how small nanoparticles are. Consider human hair and the concept of a trillion.
“Classically,” says Smith, “the width of a human hair is 50 microns.” That varies a bit depending on how much they spend on air conditioning, but still: 50 microns, which means 50,000 nanometers.
Meanwhile, one trillion is a million million.
Smith nanoparticles are two nanometers in diameter, which means that the width of the hair is 25,000 times its width. And the number of nanoparticles needed to introduce 40 mice to the laboratory, he said, was about a quadrillion, which is a thousand trillion.
The next logical question is which container contains a quadrillion nanoparticles. Do they fit in the thimble? Syringe? A medium-sized pistol?
Like many drugs, Smith says, each dose of mouse was suspended in saline for proper dilution.
The whole swarm of dark black nanoparticles, however, “can easily fit in a syringe and can fit in a dropper with a pipette if you really squeeze them together.”
Estimate anyway, “it’s weird when I think about it sometimes,” Smith says. “But people have been doing all sorts of interesting things with molecules for years.”
He joined the Nanoparticles Party after growing up in Cincinnati and earning a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Ohio. Out of respect for his colleagues from the Big 10 and his health, he says he is showcasing his memorabilia from OSU only at the East Lansing House, which he along with his wife Ziba, MSU Research Grants Administrator, and their 3-month-old daughter Adara .
Smith was going to be a vet, like his father, but found he loved animals too much to watch them die.
Luckily, he also loved asking questions about how it happens, down to the point that “I was all annoyed. I wanted to know how nature works. “
The language of the field is mathematics, which he, as it turned out, speaks well. This led him to a teaching position at Stanford, where he found cardiologist Nicholas Lipper, who published an article showing how immune cells called macrophages were ordered not to eat plaques that appear in arteries that can cause atherosclerosis. .
Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries that can lead to cardiac arrest or stroke.
Smith, Lipper, graduate student Nilufar Hosseini Nassab, medical student Alyssa Flores and a number of colleagues focused on selectively intercepting receptor signals in macrophages and sending messages to engage.
Base nanoparticles are created using what is known as the high pressure carbon monoxide process. HiPco is a gas-phase reaction of high-purity iron, often a gray powder, with high-pressure carbon monoxide.
The team can create them in a day, Smith says, but often buys them from a Canadian company because it’s cheaper.
It’s a two-day effort to make them biocompatible, attach polymers so they can work in syringes, and lace them up with chemicals.
“They are aimed at shutting down the shutdown process,” said Philip Levy, a Wayne physician and professor, president of the Detroit Board of the American Heart Association. “By doing this, they can restrict macrophages so they start consuming garbage and reduce plaque size from the inside out.
“It’s actually a great idea.”
At Beaumont Health, Justin Trievax notes that he and other interventional cardiologists are “skeptical of many treatments,” no matter how promising they seem in the early stages.
However, he is intrigued by the potential of nanoparticles to treat high-risk patients or those who have arrived in the midst of a mini-stroke or heart attack.
“Atherosclerosis is stable until it happens. We just don’t know when it will happen, ”Trivax says. “So it shows a certain promise.”
The inventors have applied for a previous patent, and Smith says Stanford’s patent office will be looking for a partner to develop a discovery for clinical use.
Although he has several patents and teaches a one-year course in medical-technical entrepreneurship, “I’ve never gone through this whole process moving something from bench to bed,” he says.
He predicts it should be interesting but potentially disappointing.
Nanotherapy will be tested on rabbits, then on pigs, then on humans. The toxicity study will take three to five years. This will be followed by clinical trials that suggest treating the aces of all previous tests.
“I’d say we’re looking at eight years in total,” Smith says, “as a supeptimist, provided everything goes perfectly, something I’ve never heard of in the history of medicine.”
So it’s probably 10 years, which feels like an eternity when he’s talking to people who need help now.
But when he talks to other scientists who have jumped over hoops, he says, “I feel like we’re on a very good path” – a little little one with a line of tiny nanobarriers.