Radio-metal cross-linking of alginate hydrogels for non-invasive in vivo imaging

P. Stephen Patrick, Joseph C. Bear, Heather E. Fitzke, May Zaw-Thin, Ivan P. Parkin, Mark F. Lythgoe, Tammy L. Kalber, Daniel J. Stuckey
Alginate hydrogels are cross-linked polymers with high water content, tuneable chemical and material properties, and a range of biomedical applications including drug delivery, tissue engineering, and cell therapy. However, their similarity to soft tissue often renders them undetectable within the body using conventional bio-medical imaging techniques. This leaves much unknown about their behaviour in vivo, posing a challenge to therapy development and validation. To address this, we report a novel, fast, and simple method of incorporating the nuclear imaging radio-metal 111In into the structure of alginate hydrogels by utilising its previously-undescribed capacity as an ionic cross-linking agent. This enabled non-invasive in vivo nuclear imaging of hydrogel delivery and retention across the whole body, over time, and across a range of model therapies including: nasal and oral drug delivery, stem cell transplantation, and cardiac tissue engineering. This information will facilitate the development of novel therapeutic hydrogel formulations, encompassing alginate, across disease categories.

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