Hyaluronic acid (HA) also known as hyaluronan, is a natural polysaccharide—an anionic, non-sulfated glycosaminoglycan—commonly found in our bodies. It occurs in the highest concentrations in the eyes and joints. Today HA is used during certain eye surgeries and in the treatment of dry eye disease. It is a remarkable natural lubricant that can be injected into the knee for patients with knee osteoarthritis. HA has also excellent gelling properties due to its capability to bind water very quickly. As such, it is one the most attractive controlled drug release matrices and as such, it is frequently used in various biomedical applications. Due to its reactivity, HA can be cross-linked or conjugated with assorted bio-macromolecules and it can effectively encapsulate several different types of drugs, even at nanoscale. Moreover, the physiological significance of the interactions between HA and its main membrane receptor, CD44 (a cell-surface glycoprotein that modulates cell–cell interactions, cell adhesion and migration), in pathological processes, e.g., cancer, is well recognized and this has resulted in an extensive amount of studies on cancer drug delivery and tumor targeting. HA acts as a therapeutic but also as a tunable matrix for drug release. Thus, this review focuses on controlled or sustained drug release systems assembled from HA and its derivatives. More specifically, recent advances in controlled release of proteins, antiseptics, antibiotics and cancer targeting drugs from HA and its derivatives were reviewed. It was shown that controlled release from HA has many benefits such as optimum drug concentration maintenance, enhanced therapeutic effects, improved efficiency of treatment with less drug, very low or insignificant toxicity and prolonged in vivo release rates.
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