New molecular targets for functionalized nanosized drug delivery systems in personalized therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma

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Hepatocellular carcinoma, the most frequent solid tumor of the liver, has a very poor prognosis, being the second most common cause of death from cancer worldwide. The incidence and mortality of this liver tumor are increasing in most areas of the world as a consequence of aging and the emerging of new risk factors such as the metabolic syndrome, beside the recognized role of hepatitis B and C viral infections and alcohol abuse. Despite the increasing knowledge on the molecular mechanisms underlying hepatic carcinogenesis, effective therapeutic strategies are still an unmet clinical need. Efforts have been made to develop selective drugs as well as effective targeted drug delivery systems. The development of novel drug carriers for therapeutic molecules can indeed offer a valuable strategy to ameliorate the efficacy of HCC treatment. In this review, we discuss recent drug delivery strategies for HCC treatment based on the exploitation of targeted nanoparticles (NPs). Indeed, a few of these platforms have achieved an advanced stage of preclinical development. Here, we review the most promising drug nanovehicles based on both synthetic and natural polymers, including polysaccharides that have emerged for their biocompatibility and biodegradability. To maximize site-selectivity and therapeutic efficacy, drug delivery systems should be functionalized with ligands which can specifically recognize and bind targets expressed by HCC, namely cell membrane associated antigens, receptors or biotransporters. Cell surface and intracellular molecular targets are exploited either to selectively deliver drug-loaded nanovehicles or to design novel selective therapeutics. In conclusion, the combination of novel and safe drug delivery strategies based on site-specific targeted drug nanovehicles with therapeutic molecular targets may significantly improve the pharmacological efficacy for the treatment of HCC.

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