A heart attack doesn’t always end with one episode. For people who've suffered a myocardial infarction, the probability of a repeat attack is about 30 percent. And the 715,000 Americans who experience a heart attack every year don't want to risk another.

But most therapies can’t target the source of the problem: inflammation in the blood vessels of the heart. A new study published in Nature Communications details how researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have modified a common heart attack therapy to get to the heart of inflammation.

Learn the Signs of a Heart Attack »

How Does It Work?

Inflammation is a serious concern after a heart attack because of the danger of plaque buildup in the arteries. Enough plaque can cause blood clots, leading to another heart attack. Directly targeting the inflammation that makes the blood vessels swell is key.

The researchers created a method for the targeted delivery of a statin drug, which is usually used to lower levels of bad cholesterol in the blood but also has anti-inflammatory properties.

A high-density lipoprotein (HDL) nanoparticle acts as a vehicle for the statin. The statin and nanoparticle pack a one-two punch because HDLs also have a diminishing effect on inflammatory cells called macrophages in the plaque in arterial walls.

The researchers have successfully tested their new therapy on lab mice.

View the Heart Using Health's Body Maps »

Current Treatments Leave Room for Improvement

“With the current standard of care, there’s no method to reduce the inflammation of the vessel wall,” said Willem Mulder, an associate professor of radiology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “These particles really target these inflammatory cells in the vessel wall.”

Giving a patient a statin drug after a heart attack, which is standard practice, is somewhat helpful but doesn’t specifically root out inflammation.

“The main drawback is that, although we have done very well with what we call risk factor reduction...we still have a huge recurrence of cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Zahi Fayad, Director of Cardiovascular Imaging Research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Instead of going after a novel target, we wanted to take an approach that existing drugs can be repurposed.”

Find the Right Treatments for a Heart Attack »

Heart Attack Therapies: A National Priority

The study was primarily supported by the National Institute of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, as a Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology, highlighting the importance of developing nanoparticle therapies in the medical field.

“It’s not just that we’re interested in this, it’s also something considered by the NIH to be a very important topic with a lot of potential,” Mulder said.

There are ample opportunities to combine nanoparticle technology with other traditional drugs and to develop completely new therapies for other diseases as the researchers move closer to clinical trials.  

“It’s a topic not only in cardiovascular disease that’s gaining traction but also in cancer,” Fayad said. “We hope to push new paradigms in terms of treatment of atherosclerosis to come up with novel drugs.”