A near infrared-modulated thermosensitive hydrogel for stabilization of indocyanine green and combinatorial anticancer phototherapy†
Indocyanine green (ICG), a multifunctional near-infrared (NIR) imaging agent approved by the FDA, has been extensively used in clinical cancer theranosis, but limited by its inherent instability, short plasma half-life and lack of targeting ability. Herein, an in situ formed photothermal network based thermosensitive hydrogel (PNT-gel) constructed by using supramolecular cross-linking conjugated polymers was developed for the stabilization of ICG and efficient combinatorial photothermal/photodynamic antitumor therapy. While the conjugated polymeric backbone in PNT-gel anchored the aromatic phototherapeutic agent ICG via π–π stacking interactions to avoid premature leakage, it also directly converted low-dose NIR light to induce localized hyperthermia to enhance the photothermal effect. The PNT-gel shows a reversible gel-to-sol upper critical solution temperature (UCST) that is slightly above body temperature. Therefore, the controlled release of ICG was switched on or off by NIR via photothermal-induced gel–sol transition. In vitro and in vivo antitumor experiments demonstrated that ICG loaded PNT-gel not only efficiently induced the killing of 4T1 cancer cells, but also achieved almost complete eradication of 4T1 cells by one-dose intratumoral injection in combinatorial photothermal/photodynamic therapy under irradiation of a low-dose 808 nm laser (0.14 W cm−2). Additionally, the combinational therapy proved to enhance the effectiveness of photodestruction without tumor recurrence compared with photothermal therapy (PTT) or photodynamic therapy (PDT) treatment alone.