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Photothermal Control of Membrane Permeability of Microcapsules for On-Demand Release

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posted on 22.01.2014, 00:00 authored by Woong-Chan Jeong, Shin-Hyun Kim, Seung-Man Yang
We report the use of a simple microfluidic device for producing microcapsules with reversible membrane permeability that can be remotely controlled by application of near-infrared (NIR) light. Water-in-oil-in-water (W/O/W) double-emulsion drops were prepared to serve as templates for the production of mechanically stable microcapsules with a core–shell structure and highly uniform size distribution. A biocompatible ethyl cellulose shell was formed, containing densely packed thermoresponsive poly­(N-isopropylacrylamide) (pNIPAAm) particles in which gold nanorods were embedded. Irradiation with a NIR laser resulted in heating of the hydrogel particles due to the photothermal effect of the gold nanorods, which absorb at that wavelength. This localized heating resulted in shrinkage of the particles and formation of macrogaps between them and the matrix of the membrane. Large encapsulated molecules could then pass through these gaps into the surrounding fluid. As the phase transition behavior of pNIPAAm is highly reversible, this light-triggered permeability could be repeatedly switched on and off by removing the laser irradiation for sufficient time to allow the gold nanorods to cool. This reversible and remote control of permeability enabled the programmed release of encapsulants, with the time and period of the open valve state able to be controlled by adjusting the laser exposure. This system thus has the potential for spatiotemporal release of encapsulated drugs.