Benefiting from the development of nanotechnology, drug delivery systems (DDSs) with stimuli-responsive controlled release function show great potential in clinical anti-tumor applications. By using a DDS, the harsh side effects of traditional anti-cancer drug treatments and damage to normal tissues and organs can be avoided to the greatest extent. An ideal DDS must firstly meet bio-safety standards and secondarily the efficiency-related demands of a large drug payload and controlled release function. This review highlights recent research progress on DDSs with stimuli-responsive characteristics. The first section briefly reviews the nanoscale scaffolds of DDSs, including mesoporous nanoparticles, polymers, metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), quantum dots (QDs) and carbon nanotubes (CNTs). The second section presents the main types of stimuli-responsive mechanisms and classifies these into two categories: intrinsic (pH, redox state, biomolecules) and extrinsic (temperature, light irradiation, magnetic field and ultrasound) ones. Clinical applications of DDS, future challenges and perspectives are also mentioned.
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