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Chitosan and its derivates in biomedicine

The development of nanotechnology has opened up new applications in the field of biomedicine. Chitosan and its derivatives can be used in a variety of ways, for example to enable targeted and sustained drug release. To give you an overview, we present a review that deals with the current research on the application of chitosan and its derivatives, especially carboxymthylchitosan (CMC), in biomedicine.


Chitosan Derivatives and Their Application in Biomedicine. Wenqian Wang, Qiuyu Meng, Qi Li, Jinbao Liu, Mo Zhou, Zheng Jin, Kai Zhao. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2020, 21(2), 487,

Due to the continuous improvement of people's living standards, more and more attention is paid to the development of health and medical technology.  In recent years, many polymer compounds have been extracted from natural sources such as starch, inulin and chitin.  Applications of these include biology, medicine, beauty or personal care industry. The use of natural polymers has the advantage that they are renewable and biodegradable. Chitosan, which is derived from chitin, stands out in particular because it also has antiviral, antibacterial and wound-healing properties. These properties can be further enhanced by chemical modifications such as derivatization with caboxylmethyl groups.
Through carboxylation, especially carboxymethylation of the C6-OH and C2-NH2 groups, chitosan can be converted to N,O-carboxymethylchitosan (CMC). Due to the hydrophilic carboxymethyl groups, CMC is soluble in water and alkaline solutions, unlike chitosan. CMC is also used in biomedicine and pharmaceuticals due to its antibacterial, wound healing, lipid lowering, anti-arteriosclerotic, anti-viral, anti-tumor, anti-coagulant and hypoglycemic effects.


  • Liver-specific drug delivery:
    Use of glycyrrhizic acid-chitosan nanoparticles for targeted release of ferulic acid (antioxidant drug against liver carcinoma) in liver.
  • Kidney-specific Drug Delivery:
    Targeted drug release (of e.g. prednisone) with short-chain chitosan (molecular weight about 19 kDa).
  • Lung-Specific Drug Delivery:
    Folic acid-polyethylene glycol-chitosan copolymers have shown good pharmacokinetic properties in the lung as nanoparticles loaded with taxol.
  • Use as drug delivery vehicles:
    Chitosan can penetrate various biological barriers in the form of microspheres, nanoparticles, and hydrogels. Chitosan can be used to deliver active ingredients to targeted sites of action and delayed delivery over a period of time.
  • Use as an antibacterial material:
    Chitosan and its derivatives are used as non-toxic antibacterial materials in biomedicine.
  • Vaccine adjuvant or vector for mucosal vaccination:
    PLGA nanoparticles coated with chitosan were used as vehicles for plasmid DNA. The loaded nanoparticles elicited stronger immune responses than DNA alone.

 APPLICATIONS OF Carboxymthylchitosan

  • Improvement of mucoadhesion:
    Induced by strong hydrogen bonding and electrostatic interactions. Use with drugs to improve mucoadhesion and drug release in oral and respiratory drug delivery systems.
  • Improvement of pH sensitivity:
    In hydrogels with polyethylene glycol (PEG-g-CMC). pH-dependent macroscopic changes within the polymer enable targeted drug release based on pH changes across the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Colon-specific Drug Delivery:
    Treatment of chronic intestinal diseases with gum arabic-O-CMC microcapsules capable of passing through the upper gastrointestinal tract. The pH-sensitivity of CMC can increase drug release and bioavailability in the intestine.
  • Bone tissue engineering:
    Use of CMC as a biocompatible scaffold substance in bone grafting. CMC improves cell adhesion and proliferation.
  • Vehicle for gene therapy:
    Complexed O-CMC nanoparticles can be used as vectors for siRNA and RNA to treat breast and lung cancer. In vitro, O-CMC nanoparticles have been shown to inhibit tumor cell migration.
  • Vaccine adjuvant or vector for mucosal vaccination:
    Inducing a stronger immune response in mucosa with CMC nanoparticles.

Conclusion: Chitosan and its derivatives are already used for the production of medical materials and in biomedicine, among many other applications.  In addition to this, with the development of nanomaterials, the field of application of chitosan and its derivatives has also expanded. These nanomaterials are being explored in the context of targeted drug release and enhancement of vaccines. Improvements in immune response and drug release have already been demonstrated in vitro. Future research may further improve the properties of chitosan derivatives and their nanomaterials and enable their application in humans.

chitosan, chito derivatives, CMC, carboxymethylchitosan, biomedicine

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