Research raises hopes for abdominal aneurysm sufferers

New hope is dawning for patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms, the malady that recently claimed the life of “Martin” and “New York Undercover” actor Tommy Ford.

Researchers at Clemson University have found a new way of delivering potentially life-saving drugs directly to the aneurysm, using nanoparticles that are 250-fold smaller than the width of a human hair.

Their work raises hope for a new treatment that would allow doctors for the first time to reverse abdominal aortic aneurysms with drugs, making them smaller and less likely to rupture.

The statistics are grim when the aneurysm ruptures. Patients have a 10-15 percent chance of survival. It’s the 15th leading cause of death in the country, and the 10th leading cause of death in men older than 55, according to the Society for Vascular Surgery.

About 200,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year with an abdominal aortic aneurysm, often called AAA.

Naren Vyavahare, the Hunter Endowed Chair in the Department of Bioengineering, said that drugs currently available help stop aneurysm development and make patients feel better but that nothing so far reverses the damage.

“We’ve shown it can be done in animals,” he said. “That’s what makes the research we’ve done so promising.”

Researchers used nanoparticles to deliver two types of drug to abdominal aortic aneurysms in rats. One drug removed calcified mineral deposits in the aneurysm wall, and one drug caused the aneurysm to regress.

The Clemson group recently reported its findings in the journal Theranostics.

A separate group of researchers in Holland successfully tested the method on pigs. It’s now headed for human trials with the Minnesota-based company Vatrix, where Vyavahare is chief scientific advisor.

Ford was 52 when he died Oct. 12 in an Atlanta hospital. He played Tommy Strawn on the hit 1990’s show “Martin.” His death was widely reported as a ruptured abdominal aneurysm.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, the body’s main artery. The aorta runs from the heart to the abdomen, distributing oxygenated blood throughout the body.

An aneurysm is caused by a thinning and weakening of the vessel wall. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, hardened arteries and smoking are risk factors for aortic aneurysm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The innovation at Clemson was to develop injectable nanoparticles that carry the drugs and latch onto elastin in the aneurysm. Antibodies that surround the nanoparticles are what cause them to go to the elastin, which Vyavahare described as the “rubberband of life.”

“Whenever the body needs some elasticity, the body will produce this elastin protein,” he said. “Our arteries are constantly pulsating to push the blood forward. Elastin is required for that.”

The first drug that Clemson researchers gave the rats was ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA), which removed mineral calcification from the tissue. The second drug– polyphenol, pentagalloyl glucose (PGG)– restored the elastin.

The nanoparticles are made of the water-soluble protein albumin and deliver the drugs slowly. It raises hopes that if the method makes it to market, one treatment would last a patient several months, Vyavahare said.

The research was done on Clemson’s main campus and at the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Center on the Patewood campus of Greenville Health System.

Martine LaBerge, chair of the Department of Bioengineering, said the work Vyavahare and his team have done is a shining example of what many experts call “translational research.” It’s research that can be translated from the lab into real-world practice and is a high priority for Clemson engineers.

“I’d like to congratulate Dr. Vyavahare and his team on their success,” LaBerge said. “The published studies speak to their scholarship, and industry’s interest underscores the real-world potential.”

The research has also raised hopes that nanoparticles could be used to treat other ailments involving elastin degradation, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly called COPD.

A Clemson group that included Vyavahare used the nanoparticles to successful deliver the drug doxycycline to rats with emphysema, which is often a part of COPD. The research showed promise as a way of controlling inflammation, halting further damage to the lungs.

That research was recently reported in the journal Pulmonary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. The next step is to try the method in larger animals, Vyavahare said.

Vyavahare has also formed a company around his research, ConnecTiss, with $35,000 from the South Carolina Research Authority.

The company is focusing on using nanoparticles to deliver polyphenols to the target areas of the skin to smooth out wrinkles. Vyavahare is now exploring options for toxicology studies.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Vyavahare and his team on their work.

“Dr. Vyavahare is working on the cutting-edge of nanoparticle research,” Gramopadhye said. “The translational research he is doing shows strong promise to enhance human health and well-being.”

Authors on the Theranostics paper were Nasim Nosoudi, Aniqa Chowdhury, Steven Siclari, Saketh Karamched, Vaideesh Parasaram, Joe Parrish and Vyavahare, all from Clemson’s Department of Bioengineering; and Patrick Gerard from the university’s Department of Mathematical Sciences.

The authors of the Pulmonary Pharmacology & Therapeutics papers were Parasaram, Nosoudi and Vyavahare; and Renee J. LeClair and Andrew Binks from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

*This story originally posted on the Clemson Newsstand. Read the full article here.*