Chemotherapy is commonly associated with limited effectiveness and unwanted side effects in normal cells and tissues, due to the lack of specificity of therapeutic agents to cancer cells when systemically administered. In brain tumors, the existence of both physiological barriers that protect tumor cells and complex resistance mechanisms to anticancer drugs are additional obstacles that hamper a successful course of chemotherapy, thus resulting in high treatment failure rates. Several potential surrogate therapies have been developed so far. In this context, hydrogel-based systems incorporating nanostructured drug delivery systems (DDS) and hydrogel nanoparticles, also denoted nanogels, have arisen as a more effective and safer strategy than conventional chemotherapeutic regimens. The former, as a local delivery approach, have the ability to confine the release of anticancer drugs near tumor cells over a long period of time, without compromising healthy cells and tissues. Yet, the latter may be systemically administered and provide both loading and targeting properties in their own framework, thus identifying and efficiently killing tumor cells. Overall, this review focuses on the application of hydrogel matrices containing nanostructured DDS and hydrogel nanoparticles as potential and promising strategies for the treatment and diagnosis of glioblastoma and other types of brain cancer. Some aspects pertaining to computational studies are finally addressed.
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