Nature employs a variety of tactics to precisely time and execute the processes and mechanics of life, relying on sequential sense and response cascades to transduce signaling events over multiple length and time scales. Many of these tactics, such as the activation of a zymogen, involve the direct manipulation of a material by a stimulus. Similarly, effective therapeutics and diagnostics require the selective and efficient homing of material to specific tissues and biomolecular targets with appropriate temporal resolution. These systems must also avoid undesirable or toxic side effects and evade unwanted removal by endogenous clearing mechanisms. Nanoscale delivery vehicles have been developed to package materials with the hope of delivering them to select locations with rates of accumulation and clearance governed by an interplay between the carrier and its cargo. Many modern approaches to drug delivery have taken inspiration from natural activatable materials like zymogens, membrane proteins, and metabolites, whereby stimuli initiate transformations that are required for cargo release, prodrug activation, or selective transport. This Perspective describes key advances in the field of stimuli-responsive nanomaterials while highlighting some of the many challenges faced and opportunities for development. Major hurdles include the increasing need for powerful new tools and strategies for characterizing the dynamics, morphology, and behavior of advanced delivery systems in situ and the perennial problem of identifying truly specific and useful physical or molecular biomarkers that allow a material to autonomously distinguish diseased from normal tissue.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry