Theranostics 2018; 8(4):878-893. doi:10.7150/thno.22072

Research Paper

Sustained Release of Immunosuppressant by Nanoparticle-anchoring Hydrogel Scaffold Improved the Survival of Transplanted Stem Cells and Tissue Regeneration

Ruixiang Li1, Jianming Liang1, Yuwei He1, Jing Qin1, Huining He3, Seungjin Lee4, Zhiqing Pang1✉, Jianxin Wang1,2✉

1. Department of Pharmaceutics, School of Pharmacy, Fudan University & Key Laboratory of Smart Drug Delivery, Ministry of Education, Shanghai 201203, China;
2. Institute of Materia Medica, The Academy of Integrative Medicine of Fudan University, Shanghai 201203, China;
3. Tianjin Key Laboratory on Technologies Enabling Development of Clinical Therapeutics and Diagnostics, School of Pharmacy, Tianjin Medical University, Tianjin 300070, China;
4. College of Pharmacy, Ewha Women's University, Seoul 03760, Republic of Korea.


The outcome of scaffold-based stem cell transplantation remains unsatisfied due to the poor survival of transplanted cells. One of the major hurdles associated with the stem cell survival is the immune rejection, which can be effectively reduced by the use of immunosuppressant. However, ideal localized and sustained release of immunosuppressant is difficult to be realized, because it is arduous to hold the drug delivery system within scaffold for a long period of time. In the present study, the sustained release of immunosuppressant for the purpose of improving the survival of stem cells was successfully realized by a nanoparticle-anchoring hydrogel scaffold we developed.

Methods: Poly (lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) nanoparticles were modified with RADA16 (RNPs), a self-assembling peptide, and then anchored to a RADA16 hydrogel (RNPs + Gel). The immobilization of RNPs in hydrogel was measured in vitro and in vivo, including the Brownian motion and cumulative leakage of RNPs and the in vivo retention of injected RNPs with hydrogel. Tacrolimus, as a typical immunosuppressant, was encapsulated in RNPs (T-RNPs) that were anchored to the hydrogel and its release behavior were studied. Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs), as model stem cells, were cultured in the T-RNPs-anchoring hydrogel to test the immune-suppressing effect. The cytotoxicity of the scaffold against EPCs was also measured compared with free tacrolimus-loaded hydrogel. The therapeutic efficacy of the scaffold laden with EPCs on the hind limb ischemia was further evaluated in mice.

Results: The Brownian motion and cumulative leakage of RNPs were significantly decreased compared with the un-modified nanoparticles (NPs). The in vivo retention of injected RNPs with hydrogel was obviously longer than that of NPs with hydrogel. The release of tacrolimus from T-RNPs + Gel could be sustained for 28 days. Compared with free tacrolimus-loaded hydrogel, the immune responses were significantly reduced and the survival of EPCs was greatly improved both in vitro and in vivo. The results of histological evaluation, including accumulation of immune cells and deposition of anti-graft antibodies, further revealed significantly lessened immune rejection in T-RNPs-anchoring hydrogel group compared with other groups. In pharmacodynamics study, the scaffold laden with EPCs was applied to treat hind limb ischemia in mice and significantly promoted the blood perfusion (~91 % versus ~36 % in control group).

Conclusion: The nanoparticle-anchoring hydrogel scaffold is promising for localized immunosuppressant release, thereby can enhance the survival of transplanted cells and finally lead to successful tissue regeneration.

Keywords: stem cell, immune suppression, tacrolimus, nanoparticles, endothelial progenitor cells, RADA16 hydrogel.

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How to cite this article:
Li R, Liang J, He Y, Qin J, He H, Lee S, Pang Z, Wang J. Sustained Release of Immunosuppressant by Nanoparticle-anchoring Hydrogel Scaffold Improved the Survival of Transplanted Stem Cells and Tissue Regeneration. Theranostics 2018; 8(4):878-893. doi:10.7150/thno.22072. Available from