The importance of chemistry in creating well-defined nanoscopic embedded therapeutics: devices capable of the dual functions of imaging and therapy.
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Nanomedicine is a rapidly evolving field, for which polymer building blocks are proving useful for the construction of sophisticated devices that provide enhanced diagnostic imaging and treatment of disease, known as theranostics. These well-defined nanoscopic objects have high loading capacities, can protect embedded therapeutic cargo, and offer control over the conditions and rates of release. Theranostics also offer external surface area for the conjugation of ligands to impart stealth characteristics and/or direct their interactions with biological receptors and provide a framework for conjugation of imaging agents to track delivery to diseased site(s). The nanoscopic dimensions allow for extensive biological circulation. The incorporation of such multiple functions is complicated, requiring exquisite chemical control during production and rigorous characterization studies to confirm the compositions, structures, properties, and performance. We are particularly interested in the study of nanoscopic objects designed for treatment of lung infections and acute lung injury, urinary tract infections, and cancer. This Account highlights our work over several years to tune the assembly of unique nanostructures. We provide examples of how the composition, structure, dimensions, and morphology of theranostic devices can tune their performance as drug delivery agents for the treatment of infectious diseases and cancer. The evolution of nanostructured materials from relatively simple overall shapes and internal morphologies to those of increasing complexity is driving the development of synthetic methodologies for the preparation of increasingly complex nanomedicine devices. Our nanomedicine devices are derived from macromolecules that have well-defined compositions, structures, and topologies, which provide a framework for their programmed assembly into nanostructures with controlled sizes, shapes, and morphologies. The inclusion of functional units within selective compartments/domains allows us to create (multi)functional materials. We employ combinations of controlled radical and ring-opening polymerizations, chemical transformations, and supramolecular assembly to construct such materials as functional entities. The use of multifunctional monomers with selective polymerization chemistries affords regiochemically functionalized polymers. Further supramolecular assembly processes in water with further chemical transformations provide discrete nanoscopic objects within aqueous solutions. This approach echoes processes in nature, whereby small molecules (amino acids, nucleic acids, saccharides) are linked into polymers (proteins, DNA/RNA, polysaccharides, respectively) and then those polymers fold into three-dimensional conformations that can lead to nanoscopic functional entities.