Hydrogels in Cancer Drug Delivery Systems

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Abstract

Hydrogels have played a vital role in the development of controlled-release drug delivery systems. A hydrogel (also called an aquagel) is a three-dimensional (3-D) network of hydrophilic polymers swollen in water (1). The 3-D polymer network of a hydrogel is maintained in the form of elastic solid in the sense that there exists a remembered reference configuration to which the system returns even after being deformed for a very long time. By definition, hydrogels usually contain water at least 10% of the total weight. The term hydrogel implies that the material is already swollen in water. Dried hydrogels (or xerogels) absorb water to swell, and the size of the swollen gel depends on how much water is absorbed. A hydrogel swells for the same reason that an analogous linear polymer dissolves in water to form an ordinary polymer solution. The extent of swelling is usually measured by the swelling ratio, which is the volume (or weight) of the swollen gel divided by the volume (or weight) of the xerogel. If the weight of absorbed water exceeds 95% of the total weight, a hydrogel is often called a superabsorbent. Thus, 20g of fully swollen superabsorbent will have 1g or less of polymer network and 19g or more of water (i.e., the swelling ratio is more than 20). The swelling ratio of many hydrogels can easily reach greater than 100. Despite such a large quantity of water, highly swollen hydrogels still maintain solid forms.