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Acta Biomater. 2016 Nov;45:276-285. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2016.08.057. Epub 2016 Sep 1.

Fabrication of magnetic and fluorescent chitin and dibutyrylchitin sub-micron particles by oil-in-water emulsification.

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Department of Radiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, United States.
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, United States.
Department of Radiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, United States. Electronic address:


Chitin is a carbohydrate polymer with unique pharmacological and immunological properties, however, because of its unwieldy chemistry, the synthesis of discreet sized sub-micron particles has not been well reported. This work describes a facile and flexible method to fabricate biocompatible chitin and dibutyrylchitin sub-micron particles. This technique is based on an oil-in-water emulsification/evaporation method and involves the hydrophobization of chitin by the addition of labile butyryl groups onto chitin, disrupting intermolecular hydrogen bonds and enabling solubility in the organic solvent used as the oil phase during fabrication. The subsequent removal of butyryl groups post-fabrication through alkaline saponification regenerates native chitin while keeping particles morphology intact. Examples of encapsulation of hydrophobic dyes and nanocrystals are demonstrated, specifically using iron oxide nanocrystals and coumarin 6. The prepared particles had diameters between 300-400nm for dibutyrylchitin and 500-600nm for chitin and were highly cytocompatible. Moreover, they were able to encapsulate high amounts of iron oxide nanocrystals and were able to label mammalian cells.


We describe a technique to prepare sub-micron particles of highly acetylated chitin (>90%) and dibutyrylchitin and demonstrate their utility as carriers for imaging. Chitin is a polysaccharide capable of stimulating the immune system, a property that depends on the acetamide groups, but its insolubility limits its use. No method for sub-micron particle preparation with highly acetylated chitins have been published. The only approach for the preparation of sub-micron particles uses low acetylation chitins. Dibutyrylchitin, a soluble chitin derivative, was used to prepare particles by oil in water emulsification. Butyryl groups were then removed, forming chitin particles. These particles could be suitable for encapsulation of hydrophobic payloads for drug delivery and cell imaging, as well as, adjuvants for vaccines.


Chitin; Dibutyrylchitin; Fluorescence; Iron oxide nanocrystals

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