Measuring particle size distribution of nanoparticle enabled medicinal products, the joint view of EUNCL and NCI-NCL. A step by step approach combining orthogonal measurements with increasing complexity

J Control Release. 2019 Apr 10;299:31-43. doi: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2019.02.030. Epub 2019 Feb 21.


The particle size distribution (PSD) and the stability of nanoparticles enabled medicinal products (NEP) in complex biological environments are key attributes to assess their quality, safety and efficacy. Despite its low resolution, dynamic light scattering (DLS) is the most common sizing technique since the onset of NEP in pharmaceutical technologies. Considering the limitations of the existing sizing measurements and the challenges posed by complex NEPs both scientists and regulators encourage the combination of multiple orthogonal high-resolution approaches to shed light in the NEP sizing space (e.g. dynamic light scattering, electron microscopy, field flow fractionation coupled to online sizing detectors, centrifugal techniques, particle tracking analysis and tunable resistive pulse sensing). The pharmaceutical and biotechnology developers are now challenged to find their own pragmatic characterisation approaches, which should be fit for purpose and minimize costs at the same time, in a complicated landscape where only a few standards exist. In order to support the community, the European Nanomedicine Characterisation Laboratory (EUNCL) and the US National Cancer Institute Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCI-NCL) have jointly developed multiple standard operating procedures (SOPs) for NEP assessment, including the measurements of particle size distribution, and are offering wide access to their 'state of the art' characterisation platforms, in addition to making SOPs publicly available. This joint perspective article would like to present the NCI-NCL and EUNCL multi-step approach of incremental complexity to measure particle size distribution and size stability of NEPs, consisting of a quick preliminary step to assess sample integrity and stability by low resolution techniques (pre-screening), followed by the combination of complementary high resolution sizing measurements performed both in simple buffers and in complex biological media. Test cases are presented to demonstrate: i) the need for employing at least one high-resolution sizing technique, ii) the importance of selecting the correct sizing techniques for the purpose, and iii) the robustness of utilizing orthogonal sizing techniques to study the physical properties of complex NEP samples.

Keywords: Morphology; Nanomedicine; Nanoparticles enabled medicinal products; Particle size distribution; Physico-chemical properties; Standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dynamic Light Scattering / methods
  • Fractionation, Field Flow / methods
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods
  • Nanomedicine / methods
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Nanoparticles / ultrastructure
  • Nanotechnology / methods*
  • Particle Size