Novel pH-responsive microgels and nanogels as intelligent polymer therapeutics
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Disease processes that are currently among the leading causes of death now require much more than just a stethoscope for diagnosis and a pill for treatment. The next generation of therapeutics needs to possess a degree of intelligence; the ability to sense and respond to their environment. Biomedical hydrogels have the ability to sense and respond to external stimulus and with the advent of nanotechnology; these polymers can be fabricated on the same size scale as cellular and sub-cellular processes. Throughout the body gradients in pH are used at the cellular level to regulate processes such nutrient transport and to fight infection. Sites of damage or disease within the body are associated with both a change in pH and abnormal nanoporous vasculature. pH-Responsive microgels and nanogels are small enough to access these locations within the body, sense the change in environment, and locally release a therapeutic agent In this work heterogeneous, photoinitiated free radical polymerizations were developed to synthesize novel pH-responsive microgels and nanogels that could be loaded with macromolecular therapeutics and could respond to either a basic or acidic change in pH. A novel photo-dispersion polymerization scheme was developed to synthesize poly(ethylene glycol) grafted poly(methacrylic acid) (P(MAA-g-PEG)) polycomplexation gels for oral protein delivery. These ranged in size from 100- 300 nm in diameter and could swell up to a 17-fold increase in volume, in response to a rise in pH. This property allowed them to protect insulin at low pH and release the protein at neutral pH. In this way the carriers could be used to transport proteins through the stomach to the small intestine for absorption. A novel photo-emulsion polymerization scheme was developed to synthesize poly(ethylene glycol) grafted poly[2-(diethylamino)ethyl methacrylate] nanogels, between 70-150 nm in diameter. These could swell up to a 22-fold increase in volume, in response to a drop in pH. These nanostructures were able to successfully target clathrin-dependent endocytosis and deliver macromolecules to the cytosol.