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J Am Chem Soc. 2012 Jun 13;134(23):9741-8. doi: 10.1021/ja3024059. Epub 2012 May 31.

Sterilizable gels from thermoresponsive block copolymer worms.

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Department of Chemistry, The University of Sheffield, Dainton Building, Brook Hill, Sheffield S3 7HF, UK.


Biocompatible hydrogels have many applications, ranging from contact lenses to tissue engineering scaffolds. In most cases, rigorous sterilization is essential. Herein we show that a biocompatible diblock copolymer forms wormlike micelles via polymerization-induced self-assembly in aqueous solution. At a copolymer concentration of 10.0 w/w %, interworm entanglements lead to the formation of a free-standing physical hydrogel at 21 °C. Gel dissolution occurs on cooling to 4 °C due to an unusual worm-to-sphere order-order transition, as confirmed by rheology, electron microscopy, variable temperature (1)H NMR spectroscopy, and scattering studies. Moreover, this thermo-reversible behavior allows the facile preparation of sterile gels, since ultrafiltration of the diblock copolymer nanoparticles in their low-viscosity spherical form at 4 °C efficiently removes micrometer-sized bacteria; regelation occurs at 21 °C as the copolymer chains regain their wormlike morphology. Biocompatibility tests indicate good cell viabilities for these worm gels, which suggest potential biomedical applications.

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