Multi stimuli-responsive nanocapsules selectively deliver drugs to exactly where they are needed

September 21, 2016, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore
Multi stimuli-responsive nanocapsules selectively deliver drugs to exactly where they are needed
Magnetic, pH-responsive nanoparticles deliver the antitumor drug doxorubicin (fluorescing red in this image) to cancer cells. Credit: American Chemical Society

A nanoparticle-based drug delivery system that can sense and respond to different conditions in the body, as well as to an externally applied magnetic field, could enhance doctors' ability to target drugs to specific sites of disease.

A*STAR researchers created the multifunctional nanocapsules by wrapping magnetic nanoparticles inside a biocompatible polymer coat that could be tuned to respond to acidity or temperature. The team has already shown that the nanoparticles can selectively deliver the toxic antitumor drug doxorubicin to .

Some previous nanoparticle systems have incorporated responsiveness, and others have shown pH- or temperature-responsiveness. The nanoparticles developed by Chaobin He, Zibiao Li and their colleagues at the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering are unusual in that they combine multiple stimuli-responsive behaviors into a single nanoparticle.

The team made their nanoparticles by coating iron oxide particles with silica, then attaching the biocompatible poly(lactide) (PLA) polymer via a process known as stereocomplexation. The PLA polymer strands self-assemble themselves around the iron core, forming a flexible shell that can be loaded with drug molecules.

The iron oxide core allows doctors to physically target the encapsulated drug to specific sites in the body using an external magnetic field, explains Zibiao Li, a member of the team. "This characteristic of stimuli-responsive nanocarriers is especially important in cancer therapy to prevent the serious side effects of chemotherapy," he says. By selectively delivering chemotherapy drugs to a tumor, the drug's harmful effect on healthy cells can be minimized.

The researchers further enhanced the selective delivery of their nanocapsules by coating them with newly-designed PLA copolymers that can respond to changes in pH or temperature. A polymer named PLA-PDMAEMA, for example, swells up in acidic conditions, loosening its grip on its cargo of drugs as it expands. As tumor cells are typically more acidic environments than healthy cells, these nanoparticle should selectively release their drugs within cancer cells.

When the researchers loaded their PLA-PDMAEMA coated nanoparticles with the anticancer drug doxorubicin, they showed that the drug was released significantly faster under acidic conditions. Initial tests with confirmed the capsules' were taken up by the cells and able to release their cargo to kill the cells.

The next step will be to optimize the size of the nanocapsules size, before testing them in animal models. "Further exploration of using these nanoparticles for combined drug delivery and bioimaging are also in progress," Li says.

Explore further: Drug delivery that hits the dot

More information: Zibiao Li et al. Facile Layer-by-Layer Self-Assembly toward Enantiomeric Poly(lactide) Stereocomplex Coated Magnetite Nanocarrier for Highly Tunable Drug Deliveries, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b09822

Related Stories

Drug delivery that hits the dot

May 24, 2016

Drug treatments are made more efficient by delivering them to specific sites in the body where they are needed. For example, specific targeting of anticancer drugs to tumour sites could reduce required doses, provide more ...

New nanoparticle delivers, tracks cancer drugs

October 29, 2013

( —UNSW chemical engineers have synthesised a new iron oxide nanoparticle that delivers cancer drugs to cells while simultaneously monitoring the drug release in real time.

Overcoming cancer drug resistance with nanoparticles

January 20, 2012

One of the ways in which cancer cells evade anticancer therapy is by producing a protein that pumps drugs out of the cell before these compounds can exert their cell-killing effects. A research team at Northwestern University ...

Nano packages for anti-cancer drug delivery

March 18, 2015

Cancer stem cells are resistant to chemotherapy and consequently tend to remain in the body even after a course of treatment has finished, where they can often trigger cancer recurrence or metastasis. A new study by researchers ...

Recommended for you

Bright colors produced by laser heating

January 15, 2019

Most of the colors on today's paper and fabric are made using dyes or pigments. But colors can also be produced by modifying a material's surface at the nanoscale, causing the surface to reflect or scatter different frequencies ...

Pore size influences nature of complex nanostructures

January 15, 2019

Building at the nanoscale is not like building a house. Scientists often start with two-dimensional molecular layers and combine them to form complex three-dimensional architectures. And instead of nails and screws, these ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.