Synthesis, Characterization and Modeling of Porous Copolymer Particles
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Hydrogels are polymeric materials that have three-dimensional polymeric networks, which are able to absorb and retain a large amount of water within their structures without being dissolved. Among the synthetic hydrogel, poly(2-hydroxylethyl methacrylate) (poly(HEMA)) has been of great interest because of its excellent biocompatibility with the three-dimensional networks. Therefore, poly(HEMA) hydrogels have been widely used in many areas, especially in biomedical and pharmaceutical areas, for such applications as packing materials in chromatography, sorbents in controlled release and drug delivery, implanting materials in tissue engineering. However, the applications of poly(HEMA) are still limited because of its weak mechanical strength and network properties. Therefore, in recent decades, the challenge of how to modify and control the polymer properties and how to build highly porous structures in it has received considerable attention because these modifications could significantly improve the performance of poly(HEMA) hydrogels for more favorable applications. Although HEMA and its polymers have been studied for more than 40 years, few reports about the preparation of micro-/nano-porous poly(HEMA) hydrogel particles and the requirements of their applications have risen. Furthermore, how to control the porous structures and the properties of HEMA copolymers have not been well understood. Accordingly, the objectives of this research were to investigate the synthesis of the porous copolymeric particles of HEMA with various comonomers (MMA, St and NVP), to characterize the porous structures and particle morphology, to simulate the synthesis process and porous characteristics, to explore the effects of the polymer compositions and the porous structures on the swelling properties, and to apply the resultant polymeric particles in the controlled release of the hydrophilic model drug. In the present studies, HEMA was copolymerized with three different comonomers, methyl methacrylate (MMA), styrene (St) and N-vinyl-2-pyrrolidone (NVP), respectively, to prepare highly porous particles crosslinked using ethylene glycol dimethacrylate (EGDMA) in the presence of 1-octanol used as a porogen by means of suspension copolymerization in an aqueous phase initiated by 2,2-azobisisobutyronitrile (AIBN). Nano-pores were observed in the present studies. The pore size and the swelling properties of these particles can be successfully controlled by changing comonomers or adjusting the crosslinker and porogen concentration. The results indicate that lower crosslinker or porogen concentration favors generating smaller pores, whereas a higher concentration of a hydrophilic comonomer, higher crosslinker concentration and higher porogen volume ratio promote the generation of larger pores. In addition, the effects of the porous structures and the network properties on the swelling properties were explored. The swelling capacity of the porous particles is reduced with an increase in the EGDMA molar concentration. However, higher porosity in the particles and higher amount of hydrophilic comonomer result in a higher swelling capacity of the particles. The gel formation and the porous characteristics of HEMA/comonomer/EGDMA systems were simulated using the mathematical models combining the reaction kinetics and the thermodynamics. It was found that the model over-predicted the experimental results of the porosity because the pores and the networks are shrunk or collapsed during the porogen removal. Therefore, the model predicts the maximum porosity that the polymeric particles can reach. If the hydrophobic contents are higher, the model gives better prediction of the porosity. It is concluded that the microporous structures of HEMA related hydrogels could be controlled by a properly designed process based on the knowledge gained via this research. The output of this research helps with a better understanding for industrial production of micro-porous hydrogels and their applications.