Chemists at MIT have successfully formulated a technique to synthesize polymers that disintegrate more readily in the body and environment.
Polymers created by a standard chemical reaction called ring-opening metathesis polymerisation (ROMP), although extremely useful, do not break down easily in natural environments. The research team at MIT has come up with a way to make these polymers more degradable by adding a monomer to its backbone. This monomer forms chemical bonds that can be broken down by weak acids, bases, and ions such as fluoride.
“The nice part is that it works using the standard ROMP workflow; you just need to sprinkle in the new monomer, making it very convenient,” says Jeremiah Johnson, an associate professor of chemistry at MIT and a senior author of the study.
This method could be used to manufacture polymers for extensive uses, varying from medical applications to even industrial ones.
Tests on mice revealed that during the first couple of days the degradable polymers showed the same distribution through the body as the original polymers, but they began to break down soon after that. After about six weeks, the concentrations of the new polymers in the body were between three and 10 times less than the concentrations of the original polymers, depending on the exact chemical composition of monomers that the researchers had used. These results suggest that adding this monomer to polymers for drug delivery or imaging possibly helps them to get cleared from the body more quickly.
The researchers have also started working on adding the new monomers to industrial resins, such as plastics and adhesives.