Scientists have used
magnetic fields and tiny iron-bearing particles to drive healthy cells to
targeted sites in blood vessels. The research, done in animals, may lead to
a new method of delivering cells and genes to repair injured or diseased
organs in people.
The study team, led by Robert J. Levy, M.D., the William J. Rashkind
Chair of Pediatric Cardiology at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,
loaded endothelial cells, flat cells that line the inside of blood vessels,
with nanoparticles, tiny spheres nanometers in diameter. The nanoparticles
contained iron oxide.
Using an external, uniform magnetic field, Levy’s team directed the
cells into steel stents, small metal scaffolds that had been inserted into
the carotid arteries of rats. The uniform magnetic field created “magnetic
gradients,” local regions of high magnetic force that magnetized both the
nanoparticles and the stents, thus increasing the attraction between the
particles and their target.
The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, published online on Jan. 7. Dr. Levy’s group from Children’s
Hospital collaborated with engineers from Drexel University and Duke
“This is a novel strategy for delivering cells to targets in the body,”
said Levy, who added that previous researchers have pursued other, less
successful approaches to introduce endothelial cells to diseased blood
vessels, in the developing medical field of cell therapy.
Levy’s team created nanoparticles, approximately 290 nanometers across,
made of the biodegradable polymer, polylactic acid, and impregnated with
iron oxide. (A nanometer is a millionth of a millimeter; in comparison to
these nanoparticles, red blood cells are ten to 100 times larger.)
The researchers loaded the nanoparticles into endothelial cells, which
had been genetically modified to produce a specific color that could be
detected by an imaging system while the animals were alive. After
introducing stainless steel stents into rats’ carotid arteries, Levy’s team
used magnetic fields to steer the cells into the stents.
Patients with heart disease commonly receive metal stents in partially
blocked blood vessels to improve blood flow, both by widening the vessels
and delivering drugs. However, many stents fail over time as smooth muscle
cells accumulate excessively on their surfaces and create new blockages.
One goal of cell therapy is to introduce new endothelial cells to recoat
stents with a smooth surface.
Furthermore, Levy adds, while drug-releasing stents currently provide
benefits in treating diseased coronary arteries, they have proved far less
effective in treating peripheral vascular disease, such as that occurring
in patients with diabetes. In such cases, severe problems in blood
circulation may force doctors to amputate a leg. In upcoming animal
studies, Levy’s team will use their delivery approach to deliver magnetic
nanoparticles to peripheral arteries.
Future studies, Levy added, also will use cells derived from the animal
itself, to avoid potential rejection problems that may occur with unmatched
cells. The current study used unmatched cells, delivering bovine cells to
rat arteries, but only over a 48-hour period, too brief for rejection to
The current study builds on research published earlier this year by
Levy and collaborators, in which they used magnetic fields and
nanoparticles to deliver DNA to arterial muscle cells in culture. That
research focused on a delivery system for gene therapy, while the current
study represents cell therapy. Levy suggests future applications may
combine both therapies, using endothelial cells to deliver beneficial genes
to damaged arteries.
The delivery system, says Levy, might also be applied to other sites
where physicians implant steel stents to deliver medication, such as the
esophagus, bile ducts and lungs. Another potential use might be in
orthopedic procedures, in which surgeons implant steel nails to stabilize
fractured bones, or use steel screws to correct spinal abnormalities. In
such cases, magnetized nanoparticles might deliver bone stem cells to
strengthen bony structures.
“Magnetic fields produced by ordinary MRI machines could suffice to
deliver cells to targets where they could promote healing, since MRI uses
uniform fields, which are key to our targeting strategy,” added Levy. “This
method could become a powerful medical tool.”
Financial support for the study came from the National Institutes of
Health, the Nanotechnology Institute, and both the William J. Rashkind
Endowment and Erin’s Fund of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr.
Levy’s co-authors were Ilia Fishbein, M.D., Michael Chorny, Ph.D., Ivan S.
Alferiev, Ph.D., and Darryl Williams, of Children’s Hospital; Boris Polyak,
M.D., and Gary Friedman, Ph.D., of Drexel University; and Ben Yellen,
Ph.D., of Duke University.
About The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: The Children’s Hospital
of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric
hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional
patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare
professionals and pioneering major research initiatives, Children’s
Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children
worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the
country, ranking third in National Institutes of Health funding. In
addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have
brought the 430-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children
and adolescents. For more information, visit chop.
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia