Atherosclerosis is a progressive chronic vascular disease that affects adults or the elderly. It is characterized by chronic inflammation of the arteries mainly due to the accumulation and oxidation of lipoproteins in the arterial wall: in other words, the accumulation of fat in the inner part of the arteries. The disease may appear in men at the age of about 50 years in men and 65 in women. The difference is due to hormonal protection that women have at least until menopause that reduces substantially the risks of cardiovascular diseases. However, the risk increases in cases of genetic predisposition to the disease, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, obesity, diabetes mellitus, physical inactivity and cigarette smoke. In Western countries, atherosclerosis is responsible for 90% of cases of stroke – lethal or not – as well as for the majority of cases of heart failure, peripheral artery disease and for 30% of all dementia cases.
The Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa and the CNR, financed by Fondazione Pisa for 1.5 million euros, are currently engaged in MicroVast project, which aims to develop new methods of diagnosis and treatment of vascular system diseases, particularly atherosclerosis. During the open day organized by the Foundation to show the results of the financed projects, Professor Paolo Dario from the Institute of Biorobotics of the Scuola Sant’Anna outlined the results of the work: a very small capsule is guided from outside through the blood vessels in order to find and identify obstructions, which can then be eliminated. Professor Paolo Dario says: “It is a vascular probe based on magnetic locomotion; it goes under ultrasonic visualization and releases magnetic particles and microbubbles, first to attack the atherosclerotic plaque through focused ultrasound and then to recover the fragments through magnetic clamping”. The system has already passed from theory to reality. Professor Dario stated: “We obtained: the development of a robotic platform with two manipulators, one for the magnetic navigation and one for the ultrasonic guide, validated through in vitro and ex vivo tests, the demonstration of the attack of thrombi in vitro using focused ultrasound, the magnetic recovery of fragments of plaque and thrombi in vitro simulators and systems for the release of aftercare anti-inflammatory drugs in the vessels, using nanostructured supports. We are now continuing our work to develop solutions that can be used in clinical practice”.