Reversibly Photo-Crosslinkable Polycarbonate-Based Polymersomes for Drug Encapsulation and Delivery
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This thesis describes the preparation of polymersomes from poly(ethylene glycol)-block-polycarbonate (PEG-PC) copolymers functionalized with pendant coumarin groups. Coumarin groups undergo photo-reversible dimerization when irradiated with specific ultraviolet wavelengths, so they can be used to prepare polymers with photo-responsive properties. In this case, the pendant coumarin groups enable stabilization of the polymersome membrane through photo-crosslinking of the hydrophobic block. Initially, several novel cinnamoyl and coumarin functionalized cyclic carbonate monomers were synthesized using ester, ether, or amide linkages. While the homopolymerization of these functionalized monomers proved challenging due to their high melting points, both cinnamoyl and coumarin functionalized monomers were successfully copolymerized with trimethylene carbonate (TMC) at 100 ℃ using a catalyst-free melt polymerization process where the TMC doubled as a solvent for the higher melting point monomer. Using this system, polycarbonate copolymers with up to 33% incorporation of the functionalized monomers were prepared. In addition, an investigation of some anomalous polymerization results identified previously unreported triethylamine-based catalysts for the melt polymerization of carbonate monomers. These studies also demonstrated that the catalyst-free polymerization of TMC occurs faster and at lower temperatures than previously reported. Subsequently, the photo-crosslinking of cinnamoyl and coumarin functionalized polycarbonates was compared and coumarin was identified as the more effective crosslinking agent when using 300-400 nm UV. An investigation of the photo-reversibility of the coumarin dimerization revealed no discernible change in the properties of crosslinked networks, but rapid photo-reversion in dilute solutions. The photo-crosslinking and photo-reversion kinetics of the coumarin functionalized polycarbonates were determined to be second-order in both cases. Finally, the self-assembly of PEG-PC diblock copolymers functionalized with coumarin was examined and both reverse solvent evaporation and solvent displacement were found to induce self-assembly, with hydrophilic mass fractions (f-factors) of 12-28% resulting in the formation of solid microparticles and nanoparticles and f-factors of 33-43% resulting in the formation of polymersomes. The stabilization of these polymersome membranes through photo-initiator-free photo-crosslinking was demonstrated with the crosslinking allowing polymersomes to withstand centrifugation at 12,000 x g. In addition, the encapsulation of calcein, as a model small molecule drug, in the stabilized polymersomes was successfully demonstrated using confocal microscopy.