The specific sizes that determine optimal nanoparticle tumor accumulation, penetration, and treatment remain inconclusive because many studies compared nanoparticles with multiple physicochemical variables (e.g., chemical structures, shapes, and other physical properties) in addition to the size. In this study, we synthesized amphiphilic block copolymers of 7-ethyl-10-hydroxylcamptothecin (SN38) prodrug and fabricated micelles with sizes ranging from 20 to 300 nm from a single copolymer. The as-prepared micelles had exactly the same chemical structures and similar physical properties except for size, which provided an ideal platform for a systematic investigation of the size effects in cancer drug delivery. We found that the micelle's blood circulation time and tumor accumulation increased with the increase in their diameters, with optimal diameter range of 100 to 160 nm. However, the much higher tumor accumulation of the large micelles (100 nm) did not result in significantly improved therapeutic efficacy, because the large micelles had poorer tumor penetration than the small ones (30 nm). An optimal size that balances drug accumulation and penetration in tumors is critical for improving the therapeutic efficacy of nanoparticulate drugs.
Keywords: 7-ethyl-10-hydroxylcamptothecin; cancer drug delivery; polymeric micelle; size effect; tumor penetration.