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Targeting drugs to tumours using cell membrane-coated nanoparticles

Abstract

Traditional cancer therapeutics, such as chemotherapies, are often limited by their non-specific nature, causing harm to non-malignant tissues. Over the past several decades, nanomedicine researchers have sought to address this challenge by developing nanoscale platforms capable of more precisely delivering drug payloads. Cell membrane-coated nanoparticles (CNPs) are an emerging class of nanocarriers that have demonstrated considerable promise for biomedical applications. Consisting of a synthetic nanoparticulate core camouflaged by a layer of naturally derived cell membranes, CNPs are adept at operating within complex biological environments; depending on the type of cell membrane utilized, the resulting biomimetic nanoformulation is conferred with several properties typically associated with the source cell, including improved biocompatibility, immune evasion and tumour targeting. In comparison with traditional functionalization approaches, cell membrane coating provides a streamlined method for creating multifunctional and multi-antigenic nanoparticles. In this Review, we discuss the history and development of CNPs as well as how these platforms have been used for cancer therapy. The application of CNPs for drug delivery, phototherapy and immunotherapy will be described in detail. Translational efforts are currently under way and further research to address key areas of need will ultimately be required to facilitate the successful clinical adoption of CNPs.

Key points

  • Cell membrane-coated nanoparticles (CNPs) are an emerging class of nanocarriers that are inherently multifunctional, combining the properties of synthetic nanoparticle cores with the bio-interfacing properties of cell membranes.

  • The type of membrane that is utilized is usually reflected in the biological properties of the resulting CNP, which can be further fine-tuned or augmented using various engineering approaches.

  • CNP technology has the potential to be applied in several therapeutic areas of oncology, including drug delivery, phototherapy and immunotherapy.

  • Efforts to translate promising CNPs into approved therapies are currently under way and will require the development of large-scale production methods and novel assays to facilitate the clinical adoption of CNPs.

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Fig. 1: Traditional synthetic nanocarriers versus cell membrane-coated nanoparticles.
Fig. 2: Fabrication of cell membrane-coated nanoparticles.
Fig. 3: Common membrane sources for the fabrication of cell membrane-coated nanoparticles.
Fig. 4: Approaches for cell membrane modification.
Fig. 5: Anticancer applications of cell membrane-coated nanoparticles.

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Acknowledgements

The work of the authors is supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense under Grant Number HDTRA1‐21‐1‐0010, the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01CA200574 and the National Science Foundation Grant DMR-1904702.

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L.Z. is the founder of Cellics Therapeutics and Cello Therapeutics and holds equity interests in both companies. The other authors declare no competing interests.

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Fang, R.H., Gao, W. & Zhang, L. Targeting drugs to tumours using cell membrane-coated nanoparticles. Nat Rev Clin Oncol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41571-022-00699-x

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