Polymers that degrade in the body and the environment

Researchers have succeeded in developing polymers that are more easily degradable in the body as well as in the environment by simply adding an additional monomer to the basic formulation. These polymers may be as useful for administering drugs or carrying medical imaging agents as for replacing certain industrial plastics.

The polymerization by ring opening metathesis (ROMP) is the name the experts give a chemical reaction that enables the production of polymers for various uses. Most often from norbornene (C 7 H 10 ), a bridged hydrocarbon to which it is easy, before the polymerization reaction , to add drugs or medical imaging agents. The problem is that the polymers thus produced do not degrade easily.

But researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA) have developed a method that makes them more degradable by simply adding a monomer . A silyl ether which forms chemical bonds that weak acids or bases as well as fluoride ions are able to decompose.

A new type of polymer designed by chemists from the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA) incorporates a special monomer - here in yellow - that helps polymers break down more easily under certain conditions. © Demin Liu, MIT 

A single monomer in addition

Employed in a 1: 1 ratio with norbornene, silyl ether - evenly distributed over the entire molecular structure of the polymer - aids in degrading polymeric structures similar to those prepared by the ROMP method.

Tests on mice have shown that these new polymers remain as present in the body as the old ones during the two weeks following the injection. But after six weeks, the concentrations were between three and ten times lower. So what to rid the body much faster of these polymers used as drug carriers , for example.

MIT researchers also believe that the process could also be economically profitable for the plastics and adhesives industry, among others. What make these products also more degradable.


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