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pH-responsive self-healing injectable hydrogel based on N-carboxyethyl chitosan for hepatocellular carcinoma therapy.


Injectable hydrogels with pH-responsiveness and self-healing ability have great potential for anti-cancer drug delivery. Herein, we developed a series of polysaccharide-based self-healing hydrogels with pH-sensitivity as drug delivery vehicles for hepatocellular carcinoma therapy. The hydrogels were prepared by using N-carboxyethyl chitosan (CEC) synthesized via Michael reaction in aqueous solution and dibenzaldehyde-terminated poly(ethylene glycol) (PEGDA). Doxorubicin (Dox), as a model of water-soluble small molecule anti-cancer drug was encapsulated into the hydrogel in situ. Self-healing behavior of the hydrogels was investigated at microscopic and macroscopic levels, and the hydrogels showed rapid self-healing performance without any external stimulus owing to the dynamic covalent Schiff-base linkage between amine groups from CEC and benzaldehyde groups from PEGDA. The chemical structures, rheological property, in vitro gel degradation, morphology, gelation time and in vitro Dox release behavior from the hydrogels were characterized. Injectability was verified by in vitro injection and in vivo subcutaneous injection in a rat. pH-responsive behavior was verified by in vitro Dox release from hydrogels in PBS solutions with different pH values. Furthermore, the activity of Dox released from hydrogel matrix was evaluated by employing human hepatocellular liver carcinoma (HepG2). Cytotoxicity test of the hydrogels using L929 cells confirmed their good cytocompatibility. Together, these pH-responsive self-healing injectable hydrogels are excellent candidates as drug delivery vehicles for liver cancer treatment. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: pH-responsive drug delivery system could release drug efficiently in targeted acid environment and minimalize the amount of drug release in normal physiological environment. pH-sensitive injectable hydrogels as smart anti-cancer drug delivery carriers show great potential application for cancer therapy. The hydrogels with self-healing property could prolong their lifetime during implantation and provide the advantage of minimally invasive surgery and high drug-loading ratio. This work reported the design of a series of pH-responsive self-healing injectable hydrogels based on N-carboxyethyl chitosan synthesized in aqueous solution and dibenzaldehyde-terminated poly(ethylene glycol) via a green approach, and demonstrated their potential as intelligent delivery vehicle of doxorubicin for hepatocellular carcinoma therapy via the pH-responsive nature of dynamic Schiff base.