Microemulsion utility in pharmaceuticals: Implications for multi-drug delivery

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Emulsion technology has been utilized extensively in the pharmaceutical industry. This article presents a comprehensive review of the literature on an important subcategory of emulsions, microemulsions. Microemulsions are optically transparent, thermodynamically stable colloidal systems, 10–100 nm diameter, that form spontaneously upon mixing of oil, water and emulsifier. This review is the first to address advantages and disadvantages, as well as considerations and challenges in multi-drug delivery. For the period 1 January 2011–30 April 2016, 431 publications related to microemulsion drug delivery were identified and screened according to microemulsion, drug classification, and surfactant types. Results indicate the use of microemulsions predominantly in lipophilic drug delivery (79.4%) via oil-in-water microemulsions and non-ionic surfactants (90%) for oral or topical administration. Cancer is the disease state most targeted followed by inflammatory diseases, microbial infections and cardiovascular disease. Key generalizations from this analysis include: 1) microemulsion formulation is largely based on trial-and-error despite over 1200 publications related to microemulsion drug delivery since their discovery in 1943; 2) characterization using methods including interfacial tension, droplet size, electrical conductivity, turbidity and viscosity may provide additional information for greater predictability; 3) microemulsion drug delivery publications arise primarily from China (27%) and India (21%) suggesting additional research opportunities elsewhere.

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