Molecularly Imprinted Polymers: Antibody Mimics for Bioimaging and Therapy

Molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) are tailor-made chemical receptors that recognize and bind target molecules with a high affinity and selectivity. MIPs came into the spotlight in 1993 when they were dubbed “antibody mimics,” and ever since, they have been widely studied for the extraction or trapping of chemical pollutants, in immunoassays, and for the design of sensors. Owing to novel synthesis strategies resulting in more biocompatible MIPs in the form of soluble nanogels, these synthetic antibodies have found favor in the biomedical domain since 2010, when for the first time, they were shown to capture and eliminate a toxin in live mice. This review, covering the years 2015–2020, will first describe the rationale behind these antibody mimics, and the different synthesis methods that have been employed for the preparation of MIPs destined for in vitro and in vivo targeting and bioimaging of cancer biomarkers, an emerging and fast-growing area of MIP applications. MIPs have been synthesized for targeting and visualizing glycans and protein-based cell receptors overexpressed in certain diseases, which are well-known biomarkers for example for tumors. When loaded with drugs, the MIPs could locally kill the tumor cells, making them efficient therapeutic agents. We will end the review by reporting how MIPs themselves can act as therapeutics by inhibiting cancer growth. These works mark a new opening in the use of MIPs for antibody therapy and even immunotherapy, as materials of the future in nanomedicine.