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“Killer” Microcapsules That Can Selectively Destroy Target Microparticles in Their Vicinity

Arya, Chandamany, Oh, Hyuntaek, Raghavan, Srinivasa R.
ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2016 v.8 no.43 pp. 29688-29695
T-lymphocytes, alginates, anions, biopolymers, cations, chitosan, copper, crosslinking, encapsulation, gluconates, glucose, glucose oxidase, glutaraldehyde, light microscopy, pathogens
We have developed microscale polymer capsules that are able to chemically degrade a certain type of polymeric microbead in their immediate vicinity. The inspiration here is from the body’s immune system, where killer T cells selectively destroy cancerous cells or cells infected by pathogens while leaving healthy cells alone. The “killer” capsules are made from the cationic biopolymer chitosan by a combination of ionic cross-linking (using multivalent tripolyposphate anions) and subsequent covalent cross-linking (using glutaraldehyde). During capsule formation, the enzyme glucose oxidase (GOx) is encapsulated in these capsules. The target beads are made by ionic cross-linking of the biopolymer alginate using copper (Cu²⁺) cations. The killer capsules harvest glucose from their surroundings, which is then enzymatically converted by GOx into gluconate ions. These ions are known for their ability to chelate Cu²⁺ cations. Thus, when a killer capsule is next to a target alginate bead, the gluconate ions diffuse into the bead and extract the Cu²⁺ cross-links, causing the disintegration of the target bead. Such destruction is visualized in real-time using optical microscopy. The destruction is specific, i.e., other microparticles that do not contain Cu²⁺ are left undisturbed. Moreover, the destruction is localized, i.e., the targets destroyed in the short term are the ones right next to the killer beads. The time scale for destruction depends on the concentration of encapsulated enzyme in the capsules.