Characterization of drug delivery vehicles using atomic force microscopy: current status

James Smith, Temidayo Olusanya, Dimitrios Lamprou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Introduction - The field of nanomedicine, utilizing nano-sized vehicles (nanoparticles and nanofibers) for targeted local drug delivery, has a promising future. This is dependent on the ability to analyze the chemical and physical properties of these drug carriers at the nanoscale and hence atomic force microscopy (AFM), a high-resolution imaging and local force-measurement technique, is ideally suited. 

Areas covered - Following a brief introduction to the technique, the review describes how AFM has been used in selected publications from 2015 to 2018 to characterize nanoparticles and nanofibers as drug delivery vehicles. These sections are ordered into areas of increasing AFM complexity: imaging/particle sizing, surface roughness/quantitative analysis of images, and analysis of force curves (to extract nanoindentation and adhesion data). 

Expert opinion - AFM imaging/sizing is used extensively for the characterization of nanoparticle and nanofiber drug delivery vehicles, with surface roughness and nanomechanical/adhesion data acquisition being less common. The field is progressing into combining AFM with other techniques, notably SEM, ToF-SIMS, Raman, Confocal, and UV. Current limitations include a 50 nm resolution limit of nanoparticles imaged within live cells and AFM tip-induced activation of cytoskeleton proteins. Following drug release real-time with AFM-spectroscopic techniques and studying drug interactions on cell receptors appear to be on the horizon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1211-1221
Number of pages11
JournalExpert Opinion on Drug Delivery
Issue number12
Early online date20 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • drug delivery
  • Atomic force microscopy
  • AFM
  • expert knowledge


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