• nanoparticles;
  • drug delivery;
  • targeting;
  • pharmacokinetics;
  • therapeutic efficacy

Nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems are appealing because, among other properties, they are easily manufactured and have the capacity to encapsulate a wide variety of drugs, many of which are not directly miscible with water. This review classifies nanoparticles into three broad categories based upon material composition: bio-inspired systems, synthetic systems, and inorganic systems. Each has distinct properties suitable for drug delivery applications, including their structure, composition, and pharmacokinetics (including clearance and uptake mechanisms), making each uniquely suitable for certain types of drugs. Furthermore, nanoparticles can be customized, making them ideal for a variety of applications. Advantages and disadvantages of the different systems are discussed. Strategies for improving nanoparticle efficacy include adding targeting agents on the nanoparticle surface, altering the degradation profile to control drug release, or PEGylating the surface to increase circulation times and reduce immediate clearance by the kidneys. The future of nanoparticle systems seems to be focused on further improving overall patient outcome by increasing delivery accuracy to the target area. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part A: 101A: 3646–3660, 2013.