Journal of Materials Chemistry B

Modular composite hydrogels from cholesterol-functionalized polycarbonates for antimicrobial applications

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Micellar composite hydrogel systems represent a promising class of materials for biomolecule and drug delivery applications. In this work a system combining micellar drug delivery with supramolecular hydrogel assemblies is developed, representing an elegant marriage of aqueous hydrophobic drug delivery and next-generation injectable viscoelastic materials. Novel shear thinning and injectable micellar composite hydrogels were prepared using an amphiphilic ABA-type triblock copolymer consisting of a hydrophilic middle block and cholesterol-functionalized polycarbonates as terminal hydrophobic blocks. Varying the concentration and relative hydrophobic-hydrophilic content of the amphiphilic species conferred the ability to tune the storage moduli of these gels from 200 Pa to 3500 Pa. This tunable system was used to encapsulate drug-loaded polymeric micelles, demonstrating a straightforward and modular approach to developing micellar viscoelastic materials for a variety of applications such as delivery of hydrophobic drugs. These hydrogels were also mixed with cholesterol-containing cationic polycarbonates to render antimicrobial activity and capability for anionic drug delivery. Additionally, small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and electron microscopy (EM) results probed the mesoscale structure of these micellar composite materials, lending molecular level insight into the self-assembly properties of these gels. The antimicrobial composite hydrogels demonstrated strong microbicidal activity against Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, and C. albicans fungus. Amphotericin B (AmB, an antifungal drug)-loaded micelles embedded within the hydrogel demonstrated sustained drug release over 4 days and effective eradication of fungi. Our findings demonstrate that materials of different nature (i.e. small molecule drugs or charged macromolecules) can be physically combined with ABA-type triblock copolymer gelators to form hydrogels for potential pharmaceutical applications.