February 15, 2024
Book Chapter

Biological toxicity and environmental hazards associated with PLGA nanoparticles


There have been tremendous advances in nanotechnology. More recently, the use of nanoparticles has expanded to applications including materials, packaging, energy, and medical uses such as drug delivery, diagnostics, and therapeutics. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) define nanoparticles as particles with at least one dimension measuring between 1 and 100 nm (2), but this view is generally too limited, and recommendations have been made to consider all materials with a dimension measuring under 1,000 nm as nanoparticles. The biomedical uses of nanoparticles are particularly promising because of their ability to reach and target various sites and organs. However, some nanoparticles can be composed of toxic materials or are limited by issues of biodistribution and bioaccumulation, which have hampered their use in biomedicine. The copolymer poly lactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA) has gained use in biomedical applications as a delivery system because it is considered biocompatible and can be formulated with controlled degradation in physiological environments. PLGA has a history in biomedicine that dates to the 1970s when biodegradable sutures were developed using PLGA. In addition, the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicine Agency (EMA) have approved various PLGA particle formulations as therapeutic delivery vehicles. Interest in biocompatible materials to deliver a range of therapeutic drugs, proteins, nucleic acids, and other molecules has risen recently. In addition to drug delivery, sustained drug release can be achieved by tuning the physical properties of PLGA, such as the molecular weight, ratio of lactic to glycolic acid, drug concentration, stabilizing molecules, and particle size. Given the rise of nanoparticles, human and environmental exposure to them is inevitable as more applications use free, unbound, and highly mobile particles. Although PLGA is generally considered safe, a detailed understanding of how PLGA and the other components used to help formulate this copolymer into a nanoparticle delivery vehicle is useful for assessing potential harmful effects. Despite recent advances in PLGA nanoparticle formulations, residual stabilizing molecules, inconsistent preparations, and batch-to-batch variations can lead to toxicity. Poor preparations of PLGA can lead to common mechanisms of toxicity observed with nanoparticles, such as inflammation and oxidative stress. Consistency in PLGA formulations and accurate methods to evaluate nanoparticle toxicity are needed to ensure safety. In order to better assess PLGA nanoparticles as non-toxic delivery systems, it is critical to understand their physical and chemical properties and the formulation protocols that may introduce toxic components into particles.

Published: February 15, 2024


Stromberg Z.R., D.E. Jacobsen, P.A. Kocheril, and J.Z. Kubicek-Sutherland. 2023. Biological toxicity and environmental hazards associated with PLGA nanoparticles. In Poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) Nanoparticles for Drug Delivery: Micro and Nano Technologies, edited by P Kesharwani. 457-475. Amsterdam:Elsevier. PNNL-SA-169522. doi:10.1016/B978-0-323-91215-0.00006-6

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