Theranostics 2012; 2(11):1064-1077. doi:10.7150/thno.4181

Research Paper

Noninvasive Characterization of the Effect of Varying PLGA Molecular Weight Blends on In Situ Forming Implant Behavior Using Ultrasound Imaging

Luis Solorio1, Alexander M. Olear1*, Jesse I. Hamilton2*, Ravi B. Patel1, Ashlei C. Beiswenger1, Jon E. Wallace1, Haoyan Zhou1, Agata A. Exner1✉

1. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 44106.
2. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 North Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
* Authors contributed equally to this work.


In situ forming implants (ISFIs) have shown promise in drug delivery applications due to their simple manufacturing and minimally invasive administration. Precise, reproducible control of drug release from ISFIs is essential to their successful clinical application. This study investigated the effect of varying the molar ratio of different molecular weight (Mw) poly(D,L-lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) polymers within a single implant on the release of a small Mw mock drug (sodium fluorescein) both in vitro and in vivo. Implants were formulated by dissolving three different PLGA Mw (15, 29, and 53kDa), as well as three 1:1 molar ratio combinations of each PLGA Mw in 1-methyl-2-pyrrolidinone (NMP) with the mock drug fluorescein. Since implant morphology and microstructure during ISFI formation and degradation is a crucial determinant of implant performance, and the rate of phase inversion has been shown to have an effect on the implant microstructure, diagnostic ultrasound was used to noninvasively quantify the extent of phase inversion and swelling behavior in both environments. Implant erosion, degradation, as well as the in vitro and in vivo release profiles were also measured using standard techniques. A non-linear mathematical model was used to correlate the drug release behavior with polymer phase inversion, with all formulations yielding an R2 value greater than 0.95. Ultrasound was also used to create a 3D image reconstruction of an implant over a 12 day span. In this study, swelling and phase inversion were shown to be inversely related to the polymer Mw with 53kDa polymer implants increasing at an average rate of 9.4%/day compared with 18.6%/day in the case of the 15 kDa PLGA. Additionally the onset of erosion, complete phase inversion, and degradation facilitated release required 9 d for 53 kDa implants, while these same processes began 3 d after injection into PBS with the 15 kDa implants. It was also observed that PLGA blends generally had intermediate properties when compared to pure polymer formulations. However, release profiles from the blend formulations were governed by a more complex set of processes and were not simply averages of release profiles from the pure polymers preparations. This study demonstrated that implant properties such as phase inversion, swelling and drug release could be tailored to by altering the molar ratio of the polymers used in the depot formulation.

Keywords: in situ forming implants, polymer molecular weight, phase inversion, biodegradable polymers, controlled release, ultrasound, drug delivery, PLGA.

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How to cite this article:
Solorio L, Olear AM, Hamilton JI, Patel RB, Beiswenger AC, Wallace JE, Zhou H, Exner AA. Noninvasive Characterization of the Effect of Varying PLGA Molecular Weight Blends on In Situ Forming Implant Behavior Using Ultrasound Imaging. Theranostics 2012; 2(11):1064-1077. doi:10.7150/thno.4181. Available from