Kim Grant Targets Atherosclerosis

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What does atherosclerosis have in common with John Dillinger? It’s the “public enemy number one” appellation. Atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of the arteries, is usually the cause of heart attacks, strokes and peripheral vascular disease, collectively known as cardiovascular disease, which is the number one killer in the United States. 

Just as the FBI spent a lot of time and effort to stop Dillinger in the 1930s, so have researchers and health care providers in battling atherosclerosis. The major difference, of course, is that Dillinger went down while atherosclerosis rages on. 

One of the main challenges is the administration of drugs to treat diseases – they are limited by the inability to accurately transport sufficient doses to target sites without side effects. YongTae “Tony” Kim, faculty member of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, is working to turn the tables on cardiovascular disease, and he recently received an American Heart Association (AHA) National Scientist Development Grant to help him in the effort to treat atherosclerosis.

“Atherosclerosis is a time sensitive disease, and once you have it, it’s hard to stop it,” says Kim, assistant professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Our goal is to engineer a new nanometer scale material that can deliver genetic codes effectively to treat unhealthy blood cells in atherosclerotic plaques.”

These engineered delivery vehicles will mimic the natural HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol) nanoparticles present in human blood. The engineered vehicles will not only contain imaging agents to help visualize plaque accumulation, but also biological molecules to enable the targeting of diseased cells for the delivery of genetic material that will improve their function, alleviating the effects of atherosclerosis.

“We plan to determine if our engineered HDL vehicles provide an improved treatment option for atherosclerosis,” says Kim, who plans to use cutting-edge microfluidic dynamics technology to synthesize the proposed nanocarriers, or vehicles, “which is highly reproducible through the continuous synthesis process in microfluidics,” he adds.

Therapeutic performance of the engineered HDL vehicles will be evaluated on a microchip device that can mimic the structure and function of human microscale blood vessels in atherosclerotic plaques, allowing for detailed study of vehicle-cell interaction while also allowing for continuous monitoring of target cell function. The microchip model will allow for collection of data elucidating drug action that will be further validated with a sample model of atherosclerosis in close collaboration with Hanjoong Jo, a professor in the Coulter Department.

“This project will have several outcomes with the potential to impact treatment of cardiovascular disease,” Kim says. For one thing, it will produce a new therapeutic platform capable of treating unhealthy blood vessel cells with minimal side effects. It also promotes the development of a novel, versatile platform for the study of microvasculature diseases.

“These new technologies will contribute to the development of a novel therapeutic and diagnostic paradigm for the study and treatment of atherosclerosis,” says Kim, whose grant is for $308,000 over four years. 

The objective of the AHA’s Scientist Development Grant is to support talented beginning researchers like Kim in their progress toward becoming an independent investigator, supporting research related to cardiovascular disease. And Kim’s research may have broader applications, such as screening drugs that target other organs such, as the brain, for the treatment of tumors and Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’re heading in that direction,” says Kim.


Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience



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