The potential of a novel pH-triggered block copolymer as a promising drug delivery platform for the cancer therapy has been explored. The block copolymer poly(ethylene oxide)-b-poly(glycerol monomethacrylate)-b-poly[2-(diisopropylamino)ethyl methacrylate] herein referred to as PEO113-b-PG2MA30-b-PDPA50 upon dissolution in ethanol followed by single-step nanoprecipitation in phosphate buffered saline (PBS) self-assembled into highly regular spherical micelles whose structure was characterized in detail by static (SLS), dynamic (DLS) and electrophoretic (ELS) light scattering, small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), fluorescence spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The micellar size (2RH = 42 nm) and micellar molecular weight (Mw(micelles) > 106 kDa) were found to be in the range to avoid renal clearance providing a long blood circulation time. Their size is below the cut-off size of the leaky pathological vasculature (DH < 200 nm), making them candidates for the use in cancer therapy based on the EPR effect. The pH-responsive PDPA core could be loaded with the poorly water-soluble anti-cancer drug paclitaxel (PTX) with encapsulation efficiency ∼70% and drug loading content ∼7% wdrug/wpolymer. The pKa of the diisopropylamino group of the PDPA block was determined as pKa = 6.8 in the simulated physiological condition, which is remarkably close to the pH microenvironment of tumoral cells. The release experiments evidenced that approximately 90% of the encapsulated PTX was sustained at the PDPA micellar core within the first 9 h at pH 7.4 whilst only 18 h were required for complete drug release at pH 5.0. These results suggest that the micellar dissociation might be triggered at the slightly acid tumoral extracellular environments (pH < pKa(PDPA)). The nanostructures were further placed in contact with human plasma or human serum albumin (HSA) diluted in PBS. The DLS experiments revealed that the micelles are especially stable for up to at least 48 h in such conditions, attesting the possibly long blood circulation time of the nanoparticles at serum environments which is a pre-requisite for the drug delivery applications. The cell viability experiments demonstrated that the drug-free block copolymer micelles are non-toxic and the number of viable cells is always greater than 85% compared to the survival number of a control group.
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