The importance of nanoparticle shape in cancer drug delivery

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Introduction: Nanoparticles have been successfully used for cancer drug delivery since 1995. In the design of commercial nanoparticles, size and surface characteristics have been exploited to achieve efficacious delivery. However, the design of optimized drug delivery platforms for efficient delivery to disease sites with minimal off-target effects remains a major research goal. One crucial element of nanoparticle design influencing both pharmacokinetics and cell uptake is nanoparticle morphology (both size and shape). In this succinct review, the authors collate the recent literature to assess the current state of understanding of the influence of nanoparticle shape on the effectiveness of drug delivery with a special emphasis on cancer therapy.
Areas covered: This review draws on studies that have focused on the role of nonspherical nanoparticles used for cancer drug delivery. In particular, the authors summarize the influence of nanoparticle shape on biocirculation, biodistribution, cellular uptake and overall drug efficacy. By comparing spherical and nonspherical nanoparticles, they establish some general design principles to serve as guidelines for developing the next generation of nanocarriers for drug delivery.
Expert opinion: Pioneering studies on nanoparticles show that nonspherical shapes show great promise as cancer drug delivery vectors. Filamentous or worm-like micelles together with other rare morphologies such as needles or disks may become the norm for next-generation drug carriers, though at present, traditional spherical micelles remain the dominant shape of nanocarriers described in the literature due to synthesis and testing difficulties. The few reports that do exist describing nonspherical nanoparticles show a number of favorable properties that should encourage more efforts to develop facile and versatile nanoparticle synthesis methodologies with the flexibility to create different shapes, tunable sizes and adaptable surface chemistries. In addition, the authors note that there is a current lack of understanding into the factors governing (and optimizing) the inter-relationships of size, surface characteristics and shapes of many nanoparticles proposed for use in cancer therapy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-142
Number of pages14
JournalExpert Opinion on Drug Delivery
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Cancer nanomedicine
  • Nanoparticle morphology
  • Non-spherical
  • Therapeutic index

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