Unusual behaviour induced by phase separation in hydrogel microspheres

C.L. Heaysman, Gary Phillips, Andrew Lloyd, Andrew Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hydrogel microspheres with the capability to interact with charged species such as various drugs by ion-exchange processes are useful in a variety of biomedical applications. Such systems have been developed to allow active loading of the microsphere with chemotherapeutic agents in the hospital pharmacy for subsequent locoregional therapy of tumours in the liver by drug-eluting bead chemoembolization (DEB-TACE). A variety of microspherical embolisation systems have been described, all based upon hydrogels bearing anionic functionalities to allow interaction with cationically charged drugs. We have recently prepared a series of microspheres bearing cationic functionality and have observed some unusual behaviour induced by phase-separation that occurs during the synthesis of the microspheres. The phase-separation results in the core of the microsphere being enriched in cationic polymer component compared to the outer polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)-based phase. For certain formulations, subsequent swelling in water results in the PVA-rich skins separating from the charged cores. Ion-exchange interactions with model compounds bearing multi-anionic groups create differential contraction of the charged core relative to the skin, resulting in an unusual “golf-ball” appearance to the surface of the microspheres.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-198
Number of pages9
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2017

Bibliographical note

© 2017 Acta Materialia Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).


  • Hydrogel microspheres
  • Ion-exchange
  • Phase-separation


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