Overcoming the Blood-Brain Barrier: The Role of Nanomaterials in Treating Neurological Diseases

Adv Mater. 2018 Nov;30(46):e1801362. doi: 10.1002/adma.201801362. Epub 2018 Jul 31.


Therapies directed toward the central nervous system remain difficult to translate into improved clinical outcomes. This is largely due to the blood-brain barrier (BBB), arguably the most tightly regulated interface in the human body, which routinely excludes most therapeutics. Advances in the engineering of nanomaterials and their application in biomedicine (i.e., nanomedicine) are enabling new strategies that have the potential to help improve our understanding and treatment of neurological diseases. Herein, the various mechanisms by which therapeutics can be delivered to the brain are examined and key challenges facing translation of this research from benchtop to bedside are highlighted. Following a contextual overview of the BBB anatomy and physiology in both healthy and diseased states, relevant therapeutic strategies for bypassing and crossing the BBB are discussed. The focus here is especially on nanomaterial-based drug delivery systems and the potential of these to overcome the biological challenges imposed by the BBB. Finally, disease-targeting strategies and clearance mechanisms are explored. The objective is to provide the diverse range of researchers active in the field (e.g., material scientists, chemists, engineers, neuroscientists, and clinicians) with an easily accessible guide to the key opportunities and challenges currently facing the nanomaterial-mediated treatment of neurological diseases.

Keywords: blood-brain barrier; drug delivery; nanomaterials; nanoparticles; neurological diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Blood-Brain Barrier*
  • Brain
  • Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Drug Design
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Multiple Sclerosis / physiopathology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / therapy
  • Nanomedicine / methods*
  • Nanoparticles
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Nervous System Diseases / therapy*
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Parkinson Disease / therapy
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Stroke / therapy
  • Transcytosis
  • Translational Research, Biomedical


  • Ligands