1.2. Nanostructures

Nanostructures can be defined as those objects where, at least one of their dimensions is located at nanoscale (1-100 nm). Among the most commonly used structures in nanomedicine field we find:

      Micelles: structures with spherical or globular shape. They are made of molecules that have a polar or hydrophilic head (with strong affinity for water) and a non-polar or hydrophobic tail (repels water). The heads are placed in the outer region of the micelle forming a layer in contact with the liquid environment surrounding it; the tail, instead, is located in the interior forming the nucleus of this nanostructure.
Their typical size is c50 nm and they are used to carry and deliver water-insoluble drugs, which are confined inside the hydrophobic core of the micelle, in such a way that they are protected from the exterior aqueous environment.
One of their most interesting features is that they can circulate through the bloodstream for longer than other sorts of particles because they can avoid macrophage[1] action.

      Liposomes: closed vesicles made up of lipid bilayers (two lipid layers faced by their hydrophobic tails). According to the number of these bilayers the liposomes may be classified as unilamellar or multilamellar.
Unilamellar liposomes are characterised by an aqueous core to carry water soluble drugs. Multilamellar liposomes do the same thing with liposoluble drugs. When they are intravenously administrated, liposomes are cleared quickly by the reticulendothelial system (RES)[2], in addition, hydrophobic, electrostatic  and Van der Waals forces may disintegrate them. To avoid this, these nanostructures are coated with inert polymers, like polyethylene glycol (PEG) which enables their circulation through the body without being excreted.
Some liposomes are designed to be degraded only where necessary, for instance, in low pH areas (tumour regions with hypoxia[3]), others are functionalized with antibodies or ligands (molecules that bind specific celullar receptor) onto the nanoparticle surface so that they can bind and perform on these receptors. A third technique is based on the development of thermo-labile liposomes, which are guided to target tumor tissue by hyperthermia.

      Dendrimers: three-dimensional systems with treelike structures. These nanostructures consist of a central core molecule with lots of branches. Their shapes and sizes are controlled in a very accurate way by polimerization from the central core or by synthesis from the periphery to the core molecule.
Dendrimers are excellent candidates for carrying drugs, due to the fact that they offer a high stability and their functionalization (attachment of functional groups on the surface of the nanoparticle) by physical or chemical interactions.
They can deliver a wide range of molecules, both hydrophilic and hydrophobic ones, anticancer agents, drugs or contrast agents for diagnostic imaging.
Types of nanostructures

      Nanospheres: spherical structures made of matrix systems in which the drug is distributed by encapsulation, entrapment or attachment. The nanosphere surface is modified by the addition of biological material (antibodies or ligands) or polymers so that they can reach their targets in cells.

      Nanocapsules: vesicle systems where the drug is confined in a cavity or nuclear core, surrounded by a polymeric membrane where ligands and antibodies can be attached. The core material may be solid, liquid or even gas, always in an aqueous or oily environment.

      Carbon nanotubes: mono or multilayer cylindrical structures constituted by graphite or another carbon material. They deliver their loads in a specific way by functionalizing their surfaces with nucleic acids, proteins or bioactive peptides[4], which allows them to become particles with a very low toxicity. They are good candidates for carrying and delivering drugs because they are not immunogenic (they do not produce an immune response).

      Polimeric nanoparticles: are one of the most adequate and suitable material used in nanomedicine, being largely biocompatible and biodegradable. Among their advantages are: the potential to modify their surfaces by chemical transformations, the encapsulation of the load to transport, carrying a broad variety of therapeutic agents and lastly an outstanding pharmacokinetic control[5] of these agents.
Their polymeric coating reduces immnunogenicity and limits their phagocytosis by the reticuloendothelial system (RES), increasing, in this way, the blood levels of the carried drugs in organs like the brain, intestines and kidneys. They are normally designed in such a way that are sensitive to the environment, delivering their carried drugs by responding to both physical stimuli (temperature, solvents, light) and chemical stimuli (reactants, pH, ions in solution or chemical recognition).

      Inorganic nanoparticles: usually composed by (SiO2) or alumina (Al2O3).  However, their cores are not just limited to these two materials, they can be made of any kind of metal, oxides and metal sulfides, which leads to a myriad of nanoparticles with a large range of shapes, sizes and porosities.
They are normally produced to avoid RES by modifying their size and superficial composition. They are porous with a physical coating that protects the carried load from a likely degradation or denaturation.

[1] Large size cells of the immune system located in different organs.
[2] System composed by a group of cells whose function is to capture inert particles in the body.
[3] Condition in which blood, cells or tissues is deprived of sufficient oxygen supply.
[4] Molecules formed by the union of several amino acids.
[5] Control of the processes that a drug is undergo within the organism.

Sources: Barbara Haley, Eugene Frenkel, Nanoparticles for drug delivery. Elsevier, 2008.
             Jose Manuel González, Marta López, Gema Ruiz. Informe de vigilancia tecnológica, nanomedicna 2006
             Amir H. Faraji, Peter Wipf. Nanoparticles in cellular drug delivery. Elsevier, 2009

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