Russian Scientists are Synthesizing Ferrogels that Help Deliver Drugs and Repair Biological Tissues

17 September 2020

GMP News

Scientists at the Ural Federal University have analyzed the potential of using ferrogels with different concentrations of magnetic nano- and microparticles for drug delivery through blood vessels and as substitutes for damaged bone and cartilaginous tissues. In addition, they found it possible to track ferrogels in the body using ultrasound detection.

Ferrogels synthesized and studied at UrFU are artificial composites and consist of polymer gels (their chemical composition is very diverse and includes both biological and synthetic polymers), as well as embedded nano- and (or) micro-sized magnetic particles. The optimal size, chemical composition, concentration and shape of magnetic particles are determined by the goals and planned methods of using the ferrogel (delivery of a specific drug to a specific area of ​​the body, tissue healing, etc.). For biological applications, iron oxide particles (magnetite, maghemite) are mainly used, since they are biologically intact (that is, they are not involved in physiological processes), but at the same time have magnetic properties that provide the necessary ferrogel reaction to a magnetic field.

In sufficiently soft gels, particles under the influence of a magnetic field are able not only to change the shape and location of ferrogels, but also, combining into various internal structures, significantly change the mechanical, electrical, and other physical properties of these materials. Thanks to this, magnetic gels, in particular, can serve as “containers” for drugs delivered to the body or “platforms” for growing biological tissue.

Ferrogels for modeling implants (left) and ferrogels for a targeted drug delivery model. Photo: Galina Kurlyandskaya.

Using theoretical and computer modeling and in experiments using ultrasound techniques, scientists of the Ural Federal University, together with colleagues from the Ural State Medical University (USMU), as well as universities in Spain and France, are exploring ways of targeted drug delivery in the body. The essence of the method is that micron magnetopolymer capsules containing the drug are injected into the body and then transported to the desired area using an external magnetic field. Currently, UrFU is developing and perfecting methods for releasing drugs from capsules using a compressive magnetic field (compressible sponge effect).

“The idea is as follows: liquid ferrogel is injected with a syringe or other similar device into places of rupture or fracture of biological tissues, into ulcers, into voids formed after removal of necrotic areas, into other similar places of discontinuity of biological tissue. With an external magnetic field, the ferrogel is fixed there until complete polymerization. Usually, it takes us about an hour to proceed it,” explains Andrey Zubarev, head of the research group, professor of the Department of Theoretical and Mathematical Physics of the Ural Federal University.

If necessary, an external field can provoke changes in the spatial arrangement of magnetic ferrogel particles in order to create an optimal internal architecture and mechanical properties of the implant. Then tissue from healthy areas begins to grow through it.

“In other words, a magnetopolymer implant, like a plug, fills a tissue void – a fracture of a bone or cartilage, an ulcer, etc., and through this implant, cells of healthy tissue in contact with it grow, restoring its integrity and functionality. To ensure the biocompatibility of the magnetopolymer implant, the carrier gel is synthesized either from the patient’s blood plasma or from polysaccharides. Joint research by our group and colleagues from the USMU showed that the location of the ferrogel in the body can be tracked using ultrasound detection. From a practical point of view, this method seems to be very convenient and promising,” says Andrey Zubarev.

It should be noted that the research and experiments of UrFU specialists were supported by grants and state orders from the Russian Science Foundation and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, as well as scientific foundations of Spain, France and Germany.

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