Scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have developed a synthetic version of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol that doctors are always nudging their patients with diabetes to monitor.
HDL is sometimes described as a “sponge” because of its ability to “bind” cholesterol and keep it from leading to heart-threatening plaque formation on arterial walls.
The synthetic HDL, which completely mimics natural HDL in both structure and effect, uses a gold “nanoparticle” (an object that is 100 or fewer billionths of a meter in size) as its core. Gold is both non-toxic and easily shaped, making it an ideal substrate for the synthetic. To create the synthetic HDL, two lipids and a protein called APOA1 are layered on the gold base, creating a nanoparticle 18 billionths of a meter in size.
One problem that the synthetic might solve is how to increase HDL in people’s bodies. Although there are drugs that decrease levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the bloodstream, nobody is quite sure how increase the levels of HDL. Synthetic HDL could potentially be the basis of a drug therapy that allows “good” cholesterol to be regulated at will.