Synthesis and characterisation of biocompatible organic–inorganic core–shell nanocomposite particles based on ureasils†
Organic–inorganic core–shell nanocomposites have attracted increasing attention for applications in imaging, controlled release, biomedical scaffolds and self-healing materials. While tunable properties can readily be achieved through the selection of complementary building blocks, synergistic enhancement requires management of the core–shell interface. In this work, we report a one-pot method to fabricate hybrid core–shell nanocomposite particles (CSNPs) based on ureasils. The native structure of ureasils, which are poly(oxyalkylene)/siloxane hybrids, affords formation of an organic polymer core via nanoprecipitation, while the terminal siloxane groups act as a template for nucleation and growth of the silica shell via the Stöber process. Through optimisation of the reaction conditions, we demonstrate the reproducible synthesis of ureasil CSNPs, with a hydrodynamic diameter of ∼150 nm and polydispersity <0.2, which remain electrostatically stabilised in aqueous media for >50 days. Selective functionalisation, either through the physical entrapment of polarity-sensitive fluorescent probes (coumarin 153, pyrene) or covalent-grafting to the silica shell (fluorescein isothiocyanate) is also demonstrated and provides insight into the internal environment of the particles. Moreover, preliminary studies using a live/dead cell assay indicate that ureasil CSNPs do not display cytotoxicity. Given the simple fabrication method and the structural tunability and biocompatability of the ureasils, this approach presents an efficient route to multifunctional core–shell nanocomposite particles whose properties may be tailored for a targeted application.