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Synthetic HDL Cholesterol to Fight Heart Disease

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a synthetic form of HDL (the good) cholesterol to help us fight heart disease. According to Chad A. Mirkin, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, "We have designed and built a cholesterol sponge. The synthetic HDL features the basics of what a great cholesterol drug should be." The study is published online by the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).

HDL cholesterol is very difficult to manage, and current drugs can cause liver damage. One of the most popular medications, Niacin, causes flushing that requires the use of aspirin to avoid. Dr. Mirkin is one of those patients - "I've taken niacin to try and raise my HDL, but the side effects are bad so I stopped. We are hopeful that our synthetic HDL will one day help fill this gap in useful therapeutics."

Cholesterol medications work well to lower bad, or LDL cholesterol, but without enough HDL, or good cholesterol, we are still at risk for heart disease. Low total cholesterol numbers alone do not prevent heart attacks. Heart disease prevention means keeping LDL levels low, and HDL levels high, in addition to having large HDL particle size.

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The primary protein component of naturally occurring HDL is called APOA1. The researchers developed the synthetic HDL by starting with a gold nanoparticle. They then piled attached two layers of lipids, and finally APOA1 protein. The final lipoprotein is a similar size to an HDL particle, about 18 nanometers in diameter.

According to Dr. Mirkin, "Gold is an ideal scaffolding material -- its size and shape can be tailored, and it can be easily functionalized. Using gold nanoparticle, which are non-toxic, for synthetic HDL, bodes well for the development of a new therapeutic."

Shad Thaxton, M.D., assistant professor of urology in Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, who led the study in conjunction with Dr. Mirkin says, "HDL transports cholesterol to the liver, which protects against atherosclerosis. Our hope is that, with further development, our synthetic form of HDL could be used to increase HDL levels and promote better health."

The scientists plan further research to see if they can turn the synthetic HDL cholesterol they have developed into a heart disease fighting weapon.

Synthetic HDL: A New Weapon to Fight Cholesterol Problems