C. Shad Thaxton, 33
To combat cardiovascular disease, Shad Thaxton, an assistant professor of urology, designed a nanoparticle that may be able to carry cholesterol right out of the body.
Several drugs treat cardiovascular disease by lowering levels of the lipoprotein complex LDL, commonly called "bad cholesterol" because it deposits the cholesterol in blood-vessel walls. But no existing therapies can directly increase HDL, or "good cholesterol," which carries the sticky molecule through the bloodstream and to the liver for excretion. Thaxton's nanoparticles mimic HDL. At their heart are gold spheres five nanometers in diameter; these are coated with fat and protein molecules that enable them to bind tightly to cholesterol. The work is in its early stages, but Thaxton envisions synthetic-HDL nanoparticles that will transport cholesterol from blood-vessel plaques to the liver to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. If proved safe and effective, he says, synthetic HDL could be used to prevent heart attacks and strokes within 10 years. --Katherine Bourzac
Good as gold: The bloodstream carries synthetic HDL to arterial plaques. Lipids and proteins on the gold particle's surface help it interact with cells in the plaque to extract cholesterol; the particle with the cholesterol is then excreted.
Credit: Bryan Christie Design