Nowadays, research in the field of nanotechnology and nanomedicine has become increasingly predominant, focusing on the manipulation and development of materials on a nanometer scale. Polysaccharides have often been used as they are safe, non-toxic, hydrophilic, biodegradable and are low cost. Among them, starch derivatives and, in particular, cyclodextrin-based nanosponges (CD NSs) have recently emerged due to the outstanding properties attributable to their peculiar structure. In fact, alongside the common polysaccharide features, such as the presence of tunable functional groups and their ability to interact with biological tissues, thus giving rise to bioadhesion, which is particularly useful in drug delivery, what makes CD NSs unique is their three-dimensional network made up of crosslinked cyclodextrin units. The name “nanosponge” appeared for the first time in the 1990s due to their nanoporous, sponge-like structure and responded to the need to overcome the limitations of native cyclodextrins (CDs), particularly their water solubility and inability to encapsulate charged and large molecules efficiently. Since CD NSs were introduced, efforts have been made over the years to understand their mechanism of action and their capability to host molecules with low or high molecular weight, charged, hydrophobic or hydrophilic by changing the type of cyclodextrin, crosslinker and degree of crosslinking used. They enabled great advances to be made in various fields such as agroscience, pharmaceutical, biomedical and biotechnological sectors, and NS research is far from reaching its conclusion. This review gives an overview of CD NS research, focusing on the origin and key points of the historical development in the last 50 years, progressing from relatively simple crosslinked networks in the 1960s to today’s multifunctional polymers. The approach adopted in writing the present study consisted in exploring the historical evolution of NSs in order to understand their role today, and imagine their future.
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