Organic solvent-free preparation of keratin nanoparticles as doxorubicin carriers for antitumour activity

Annalisa Aluigi, Marco Ballestri, Andrea Guerrini, Giovanna Sotgiu, Claudia Ferroni, Franco Corticelli, Marzia Bruna Gariboldi, Elena Monti, Greta Varchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Doxorubicin is one of the most effective chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of several neoplastic conditions, such as leukemia, neuroblastoma, soft tissue and bone sarcomas, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and others. However, its clinical application is limited by cardiotoxicity, such as cardiomyopathy, that once developed carries a poor prognosis and is frequently fatal. The controlled release of doxorubicin by means of a smart carrier is a strategy to overcome the aforementioned drawback. Herein, doxorubicin/keratin nanoparticles were prepared by loading the drug through ionic gelation and aggregation methods, without using cross linkers, organic solvents neither surfactants. Both methodologies afford nanoparticles with yields up to 100 wt%, depending on the loading amount of doxorubicin. Although aggregation yield smaller nanoparticles (≈100 nm), ionic gelation allows a higher drug loading (up to 30 wt%,). More importantly, nanoparticles obtained through this procedure display a pH-responsive release of the drug: indeed Peppas-Salhin model suggests that, the doxorubicin release mechanism is predominantly controlled by diffusion at pH 7.4 and by protein swelling at pH 5. Moreover, nanoparticles prepared by ionic gelation resulted in more efficient cell killing of MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer cells than those prepared by aggregation. Based on the herein presented preliminary results, ionic gelation emerges as a promising approach for the preparation of keratin-based doxorubicin nanocarriers for cancer therapy, that is worth to further investigate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)476-484
Number of pages9
JournalMaterials Science and Engineering C
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Aggregation
  • Doxorubicin
  • Ionic gelation
  • Keratin
  • Nanoparticles
  • Humans
  • Solvents/chemistry
  • Doxorubicin/chemistry
  • Keratins/chemistry
  • Drug Carriers/chemistry
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Nanoparticles/chemistry
  • Female
  • Drug Delivery Systems/methods
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Materials Science(all)


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