Polymers are widely employed as carriers for biomolecules, owing to the possibility to easily modify their chemical properties and to insert many copies of the payload at multiple functionalization sites. Payloads can be loaded either by non covalent interaction, or by conjugation to the scaffold, and released upon degradation of the bioresorbable system or by selective cleavage. To be suitable as a carrier for active pharmacological agents, a polymeric scaffold must fulfill many conditions: it should protect the payload from immune response of the body (stealth capability), and should be degraded with controllable kinetics affording non toxic byproducts (controlled release).
This project aims at producing new polymeric nanocarriers able to delivery proteins (e.g. NGF) or other bioactive molecules in specific domains within living organisms. Polymers will be engineered, starting from suitable monomers, in order to confer stealth capability and biodegradability to the carrier. Fine tuning of degradation kinetics can be achieved by a careful choice of monomeric units employed during polymerization process and modulating the microstructure of the final products. Monodisperse, functionalized polymers, such as dendrimers, are ideal carriers due to their compact size, ease of derivatization, and flexible chemistry. Alternatively, bioresorbable/biodegradable polymers can represent an attractive choice in view of their low toxicity and controllable degradation under physiological conditions. The use of functionalized polymers will allow covalent loading of the payload, while physical encapsulation can be used in order to vehiculate larger molecules (e.g. proteins) without affecting their biological activity. Finally, heterogeneous polymers with core-shell properties will be engineered in order to optimize both stealth ability and degradation kinetic. More advanced nanoparticles, such as molecularly imprinted nanoparticles, containing highly specific recognition sites, are also under investigation for use as smart nanocarriers.