Growth factors have great therapeutic potential for various disease therapy and tissue engineering applications. However, their clinical efficacy is hampered by low bioavailability, rapid degradation in vivo and non-specific biodistribution. Nanoparticle based delivery systems are being evaluated to overcome these limitations. Herein, we have developed a thermosensitive heparin nanosponge (Hep-NS) by a one step photopolymerization reaction between diacrylated pluronic and thiolated heparin molecules. The amount of heparin in Hep-NS was precisely controlled by varying the heparin amount in the reaction feed. Hep-NS with varying amounts of heparin showed similar size and shape properties, though surface charge decreased with an increase in the amount of heparin conjugation. The anticoagulant activity of the Hep-NS decreased by 65% compared to free heparin, however the Hep-NS retained their growth factor binding ability. Four different growth factors, bFGF, VEGF, BMP-2, and HGF were successfully encapsulated into Hep-NS. In vitro studies showed sustained release of all the growth factors for almost 60 days and the rate of release was directly dependent on the amount of heparin in Hep-NS. The released growth factors retained their bioactivity as assessed by a cell proliferation assay. This heparin nanosponge is therefore a promising nanocarrier for the loading and controlled release of growth factors.
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