Polyelectrolyte multilayer (PEM) capsules engineered with active elements for targeting, labeling, sensing and delivery hold great promise for the controlled delivery of drugs and the development of new sensing platforms. PEM capsules composed of biodegradable polyelectrolytes are fabricated for intracellular delivery of encapsulated cargo (for example peptides, enzymes, DNA, and drugs) through gradual biodegradation of the shell components. PEM capsules with shells responsive to environmental or physical stimuli are exploited to control drug release. In the presence of appropriate triggers (e.g., pH variation or light irradiation) the pores of the multilayer shell are unlocked, leading to the controlled release of encapsulated cargos. By loading sensing elements in the capsules interior, PEM capsules sensitive to biological analytes, such as ions and metabolites, are assembled and used to detect analyte concentration changes in the surrounding environment. This Review aims to evaluate the current state of PEM capsules for drug delivery and sensing applications. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.
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