Polymers exhibiting lower critical solution temperatures as a route to thermoreversible gelators for healthcare
Cook, Michael T.
The ability to trigger changes to material properties with external stimuli, so-called “smart” behaviour, has enabled novel technologies for a wide range of healthcare applications. Response to small changes in temperature is particularly attractive, where material transformations may be triggered by contact with the human body. Thermoreversible gelators are materials where warming triggers reversible phase change from low viscosity polymer solution to a gel state. These systems can be generated by exploitation of macromolecules with lower critical solution temperatures included in architectures. The resultant materials are attractive for topical and mucosal drug delivery, as well as for injectables. In addition the materials are attractive for tissue engineering and 3D printing. The fundamental science underpinning these systems is described, along with progress in each class of material and their applications. Significant opportunities exist in the fundamental understanding of how polymer chemistry and nanoscience describe the performance of these systems and guide the rational design of novel systems. Furthermore, barriers to translating technologies must be addressed, for example rigorous toxicological evaluation is rarely conducted. As such, applications remain tied to narrow fields, and advancements will be made where the existing knowledge in these areas may be applied to novel problems of science.