Developing Biodegradable Lipid Nanoparticles for Intracellular mRNA Delivery and Genome Editing

Acc Chem Res. 2021 Nov 2;54(21):4001-4011. doi: 10.1021/acs.accounts.1c00500. Epub 2021 Oct 20.


Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization for two mRNA vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, mRNA-based technology has attracted broad attention from the scientific community to investors. When delivered intracellularly, mRNA has the ability to produce various therapeutic proteins, enabling the treatment of a variety of illnesses, including but not limited to infectious diseases, cancers, and genetic diseases. Accordingly, mRNA holds significant therapeutic potential and provides a promising means to target historically hard-to-treat diseases. Current clinical efforts harnessing mRNA-based technology are focused on vaccination, cancer immunotherapy, protein replacement therapy, and genome editing. The clinical translation of mRNA-based technology has been made possible by leveraging nanoparticle delivery methods. However, the application of mRNA for therapeutic purposes is still challenged by the need for specific, efficient, and safe delivery systems.This Account highlights key advances in designing and developing combinatorial synthetic lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) with distinct chemical structures and properties for in vitro and in vivo intracellular mRNA delivery. LNPs represent the most advanced nonviral nanoparticle delivery systems that have been extensively investigated for nucleic acid delivery. The aforementioned COVID-19 mRNA vaccines and one LNP-based small interfering RNA (siRNA) drug (ONPATTRO) have received clinical approval from the FDA, highlighting the success of synthetic ionizable lipids for in vivo nucleic acid delivery. In this Account, we first summarize the research efforts from our group on the development of bioreducible and biodegradable LNPs by leveraging the combinatorial chemistry strategy, such as the Michael addition reaction, which allows us to easily generate a large set of lipidoids with diverse chemical structures. Next, we discuss the utilization of a library screening strategy to identify optimal LNPs for targeted mRNA delivery and showcase the applications of the optimized LNPs in cell engineering and genome editing. Finally, we outline key challenges to the clinical translation of mRNA-based therapies and propose an outlook for future directions of the chemical design and optimization of LNPs to improve the safety and specificity of mRNA drugs. We hope this Account provides insight into the rational design of LNPs for facilitating the development of mRNA therapeutics, a transformative technology that promises to revolutionize future medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • COVID-19 Vaccines / chemistry
  • COVID-19 Vaccines / pharmacology*
  • Gene Editing*
  • Gene Transfer Techniques*
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Humans
  • Lipids / chemistry*
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • RNA, Messenger / chemistry
  • RNA, Messenger / pharmacology*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / drug effects


  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • Lipids
  • RNA, Messenger