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Editorial ARTICLE

Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol., 19 October 2020 |

Editorial: Polymeric Nano-Biomaterials for Medical Applications: Advancements in Developing and Implementation Considering Safety-by-Design Concepts

  • 1School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Université de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 2Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland
  • 3Institute of Life Technologies, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HES-SO Valais-Wallis), Sion, Switzerland
  • 4Advanced Environmental Research Laboratories, Department of Biology-Chemistry, Faculty of Chemistry, Biology, Geography, West University of Timisoara, Timisoara, Romania
  • 5Centre for Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal
  • 6Department of Innovative Technologies, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI), Manno, Switzerland

The aging population represents an enormous social, structural, and financial burden on society. To address the potential problems of supporting an elderly population, it is important to consider ways of enabling individuals to maintain independence and quality-of-life (QoL) for as long as possible. To achieve this, we need to develop new solutions and novel concepts through technologies, and researchers have been exploring how disease and aging are mediated by molecular processes at the nanoscale. The subsequent nanotechnology-enabled approaches that have emerged in recent years include innovative nano-materials and nano-devices, which could enable interventions at the molecular length scale and are, therefore, an important cornerstone in building solutions.

As for every novel technology or material, a careful safety assessment is needed early in its development to avoid social and economic drawbacks. While guidelines and legislation have been put in place for therapeutics of low molecular weight along with much more complex biologics as well as their follow-on products (generics and biosimilars, respectively), the regulatory approach for advanced therapeutics including polymeric biomaterials is still in its infancy. The rise of so-called “nanomedicines” or complex therapeutics along with follow-on products such as “nanosimilars” or “complex generics” have provided advantageous attributes on the nanoscale, but the lack of guidance is a difficult challenge that needs to be addressed in the development of such products in future.

This issue describes some of the different nano-biomaterials that are currently being studied for the preparation of nanoscale drug carriers. These include: chitosan (see Jesus, Marques et al.; Marques et al.), a chitin derivative biopolymer obtained mostly from crustaceans; the family of poly(lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA) polymers (Essa et al.); poly(D,L-lactic acid) (Casalini, Rossi et al.; Da Silva et al.); polyhydroxyalkanoates (Casalini, Rosolen et al.), a polyester produced by bacteria; and hydrogel systems made up of hyaluronic acid and alginate (Lynch et al.). As indicated in this issue, some studies have found that for some materials [e.g., chitosan (Marques et al.)], the description of the specifications of the nano-biomaterial is often incomplete. The preparation of nano-vectors using these materials is also complex that needs to be better understood, in particular when self-assembly processes are used to implement therapeutic drug delivery (Yadav et al.). These issues render comparative efficacy studies difficult and preclude the introduction of a “safe-by-design” concept, as developed in the framework of the European project “GoNanoBioMat” ( As a concept, safe-by-design is currently being adapted for use in research on nano-biomaterials, based on the processes used in drug discovery and development, which adopt safety aspects early in the process (Schmutz et al.). It is intended that this concept in combination with other existing regulatory frameworks, will guide small and medium-sized companies during the development process of nanomedicines, span stages from material selection and design, characterization, assessment of human, and environmental health risks, to manufacturing and control, as well as storage and transport of the final product.

This special issue also focuses on the hazard assessment of polymeric biomaterials for medical use [see the literature study (Jesus, Schmutz et al.)], and the determination of the impact of certain properties of nanoscale drug vectors on their safety (cytotoxicity, immunotoxicity) (Jesus, Marques et al.), which discuss membrane diffusion characteristics and pharmacokinetics. Some of these parameters, including nanomaterial interactions with their biological environment (Casalini, Rosolen et al.) and the evaluation of the risks of their degradation products (Roman et al.) can be assessed by computational simulation (Casalini, Limongelli et al.) or systematic evaluation of animal studies (Hauser and Nowack), resulting in concrete suggestions for nano-biomaterial design to achieve optimized efficacy and enhanced safety. Finally, the different options of targeted anti-schistosomal therapy using nanotechnology are reviewed (Adekiya et al.).

The diversity of the different papers presented in this special issue are indicative of the significant interplay between life and the material sciences with computational approaches. We believe that this exchange of ideas is one of the best approaches to tackling the increasingly complex challenges of an aging society.

Author Contributions

GB has drafted the manuscript and submitted in final form. CS, MZ, VO, OB, GP, and PW have revised the manuscript draft. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.


This work was supported by Romanian Ministry of National education UEFISCDI - grant PN3-P3-285.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


This work was financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), through the Centro 2020 Regional Operational Programme under project CENTRO-01-0145-FEDER-00008: BrainHealth 2020, and through the COMPETE 2020—Operational Programme for Competitiveness and Internationalization and Portuguese national funds via FCT—Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P., under project PROSAFE/0001/2016, and the strategic projects POCI-01-0145-FEDER-030331 and POCI-01-0145-FEDER-007440 (UID/NEU/04539/2019). This work is part of the GoNanoBioMat project and has received funding from the Horizon 2020 framework program of the European Union, ProSafe Joint Transnational Call 2016, and from the CTI (1.1.2018 Innosuisse) under grant agreement number 19267.1 PFNM-NM.

Keywords: nano-biomaterials, safe-by-design, nanotechnology, nanomedicines, drug carriers

Citation: Borchard G, Som C, Zinn M, Ostafe V, Borges O, Perale G and Wick P (2020) Editorial: Polymeric Nano-Biomaterials for Medical Applications: Advancements in Developing and Implementation Considering Safety-by-Design Concepts. Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. 8:599950. doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2020.599950

Received: 28 August 2020; Accepted: 04 September 2020;
Published: 19 October 2020.

Edited and reviewed by: Gianni Ciofani, Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), Italy

Copyright © 2020 Borchard, Som, Zinn, Ostafe, Borges, Perale and Wick. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Gerrit Borchard,