The objective of this study was to encapsulate iron and chromium into novel nanoparticles formulated using chitosan (CS), dextran sulfate (DS) and whey protein isolate (WPI) for oral drug delivery. Empty and loaded CS-DS nanoparticles were prepared via complex coacervation whilst whey protein nanocarriers were produced by a modified thermal processing method using chitosan. The physiochemical properties of the particles were characterized to determine the effects of formulation variables, including biopolymer ratio on particle size and zeta potential. Permeability studies were also undertaken on the most stable whey protein–iron nanoparticles by measuring Caco-2 ferritin formation. A particle size analysis revealed that the majority of samples were sub-micron sized, ranging from 420–2400 nm for CS-DS particles and 220–1000 nm for WPI-CS samples. As expected, a higher chitosan concentration conferred a 17% more positive zeta potential on chromium-entrapped WPI nanoparticles, whilst a higher dextran volume decreased the size of CS-DS nanoparticles by 32%. The addition of iron also caused a significant increase in size for all samples, as seen where the loaded WPI samples were 296 nm larger than the empty particles. Caco-2 iron absorption revealed that one formulation, which had the lowest particle size (226 ± 10 nm), caused a 64% greater iron absorption compared to the ferrous sulfate standard. This study describes, for the first time, the novel design of chromium- and iron-entrapped nanoparticles, which could act as novel systems for oral drug delivery.
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