Using Nanomaterials for Safer Embolization


An embolism is a blockage in the blood vessel that can potentially by very detrimental if not treated quick enough.

By Richard Liang

During many medical procedures, the embolization of vascular tissue is necessary to close wounds and seal ruptured blood vessels. However, many embolic agents have complications, such as toxicity, breakthrough bleeding, and extensive streak artifact, which put patients with hemophilia, or clotting issues, at high risk. Researchers led by Reginald K. Avery from the Biomaterials Innovation Research Center at the Harvard Medical School have developed a durable gel-based embolic agent that can subvert such complications, as it does not rely on the body’s intrinsic coagulation abilities.
Shear-thinning biomaterial (STB) is a nanocomposite hydrogel composed of gelatin and silicate nanoplatelets that can be used for endovascular embolization procedures. A nanocomposite material is a substance made up of grain sized particles measured in nanometers and can be injected into blood vessels using a catheter or a needle. When tested on pigs, computed tomography imaging was used to monitor the effectiveness of STBs as embolic agents. STBs were shown to be almost twice as effective in clotting blood compared to metallic coils. The STBs also remained at the site of injection without fragmenting or targeting undesired areas. As STBs do not rely on the body’s natural clotting mechanisms, they can be used on patients who are undergoing anticoagulation therapy or who have a coagulopathy condition.
The only obstacle remaining is that the technology has yet to be tested on human tissue. Studying the effect of STBs in humans is the next step in making the technology medically viable. Currently, uncontrolled bleeding from vascular injury is responsible for more than 40% of deaths from medical procedures. With further development and distribution, STB has the potential to significantly reduce that statistic.
1) R. K. Avery et al., An injectable shear-thinning biomaterial for endovascular embolization. Science Translational Medicine (2016).
2) Image retrieved from:



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