Self-assembled low-molecular-weight gelator injectable microgel beads for delivery of bioactive agents†
We report the preparation of hybrid self-assembled microgel beads by combining the low molecular weight gelator (LMWG) DBS-CONHNH2 and the natural polysaccharide calcium alginate polymer gelator (PG). Microgel formulations based on LMWGs are extremely rare due to the fragility of the self-assembled networks and the difficulty of retaining any imposed shape. Our hybrid beads contain interpenetrated LMWG and PG networks, and are obtained by an emulsion method, allowing the preparation of spherical gel particles of controllable sizes with diameters in the mm or μm range. Microgels based on LMWG/alginate can be easily prepared with reproducible diameters <1 μm (ca. 800 nm). They are stable in water at room temperature for many months, and survive injection through a syringe. The rapid assembly of the LMWG on cooling plays an active role in helping control the diameter of the microgel beads. These LMWG microbeads retained the ability of the parent gel to deliver the bioactive molecule heparin, and in cell culture medium this enhanced the growth of human mesenchymal stem cells. Such microgels may therefore have future applications in tissue repair. This approach to fabricating LMWG microgels is a platform technology, which could potentially be applied to a variety of different functional LMWGs, and hence has wide-ranging potential.