282884 Design and Characterization of Micro-Porous Hyaluronic Acid Hydrogels for in Vitro and in Vivo Non-Viral DNA Delivery

Sunday, October 28, 2012
Hall B (Convention Center )
Talar Tokatlian and Tatiana Segura, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA

Natural wound healing and angiogenesis are a result of a cascade of bioactive signals being delivered at specified times in response to local biological cues. However, for chronic wounds which cannot heal naturally, external therapies are required. We are interested in engineering hydrogel scaffolds for cell-demanded release of non-viral DNA nanoparticles to more efficiently guide blood vessel formation in such tissues. Vascularization within tissue-engineered constructs still remains the primary cause of construct failure following implantation and while a myriad of approaches to enhance the vascularization of implants are being investigated none have completely solved the problem. We are currently investigating two hypotheses to enhance scaffold vascularization, both long-term mechanical support and DNA delivery. Our preliminary in vivo studies show that after subcutaneous implantation for 3 weeks enzymatically degradable hydrogels have cellular infiltration only at the periphery of the hydrogel, while hydrogels with micron sized interconnected pores (µ-pore) are extensively infiltrated. Significant positive staining for endothelial markers (PECAM) was also found for µ-pore implants and not for nano-pore implants, even in the absence of pro-angiogenic factors. We believe that an open pore structure will increase the rate of vascularization through enhanced cellular infiltration and that the added delivery of DNA encoding for angiogenic growth factors will result in long lasting angiogenic signals.

To test these hypotheses two approaches to make DNA-loaded enzymatically degradable µ-pore hydrogel scaffolds were developed. In the first approach, polystyrene nanoparticles, similar in size to DNA polyplexes, were immobilized to the hydrogel pore surface through protease sensitive peptide tethers. Enzymatically degradable tethers have been utilized for the immobilization and release of growth factors and small drugs, which are only liberated by cleavage caused by cell secreted proteases, such as matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) or plasmins, during local tissue remodeling. These proteases are known to be up-regulated during wound healing, microenvironment remodeling, and in diseased states and can, therefore, serve as triggers for bioactive signal delivery. The goal was to use peptide sequences that have been shown to degrade at different rates through the action of MMPs to achieve temporally controlled nanoparticle internalization by cells that overexpress MMPs. Cellular internalization of the peptide-immobilized nanoparticles was shown to be a function of the peptide sensitivity to proteases, the number of tethers between the nanoparticle and the biomaterial and the MMP expression profile of the seeded cells. By immobilizing nanoparticles through protease sensitive peptide tethers, release was tailored specifically for an intended cellular target, which over-expresses such proteases.

Alternatively, in the second approach, µ-pore hyaluronic acid-MMP (HA-MMP) hydrogels were used to encapsulate a high concentration of DNA/poly(ethylene imine) polyplexes using a previously developed caged nanoparticle encapsulation (CnE) technique. Micro-pore hydrogels provide the additional advantages of being able to effectively seed cells in vitro post scaffold fabrication and allow for cell spreading and proliferation without requiring extensive degradation. Thus, release of encapsulated DNA polyplexes was assessed in the presence of mMSCs in hydrogels of various pore sizes (30, 60, and 100 micron). Steady release was observed starting by day 4 for up to 10 days for all investigated pore sizes. Likewise, transgene expression in seeded cells was sustained over this period, although significant differences between different pore sizes were not observed. Cell viability was also shown to remain high over time, even in the presence of high concentrations of DNA polyplexes. Combined these results suggest that DNA nanoparticle internalization and subsequent transgene expression could be controlled by both the protease expression profile of the seeded or infiltrating cells as well as the structural properties of the hydrogel.

Presently, we are using the knowledge acquired through these in vitro models to design and better predict scaffold-mediated gene delivery for local gene therapy in both subcutaneous implant and wound healing mouse models. We believe the proposed hydrogel systems have applications for controlled release of various DNA particles and other gene delivery vectors for in vivo tissue engineering and blood vessel formation.

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