The ever increasing improvements of pharmaceutical formulations have been often obtained by means of the use of hydrogels. In particular, environmentally sensitive hydrogels have been investigated as “smart” delivery systems capable to release, at the appropriate time and site of action, entrapped drugs in response to specific physiological triggers. At the same time the progress in the tissue engineering research area was possible because of significant innovations in the field of hydrogels. In recent years multicomponent hydrogels, such as semi-Interpenetrating Polymer Networks (semi-IPNs) and Interpenetrating Polymer Networks (IPNs) have emerged as innovative biomaterials for drug delivery and as scaffolds for tissue engineering. These interpenetrated hydrogel networks, which can be obtained by either chemical or physical crosslinking, in most cases show physico-chemical properties that can remarkably differ from those of the macromolecular constituents. Among the synthetic and natural polymers that have been used for the preparation of semi-IPNs and IPNs, polysaccharides represent a class of macromolecules of particular interest because they are usually abundant, available from renewable sources and have a large variety of composition and properties that may allow appropriately tailored chemical modifications. Sometimes both macromolecular systems are based on polysaccharides but often also synthetic polymers are present together with polysaccharide chains.
The description and discussion of (semi)-IPNs reported here, will allow to acquire a better understanding of the potential and wide range of applications of IPN polysaccharide hydrogels.
A quite large number of polysaccharides have been investigated for the design of (semi)-IPNs for drug delivery and tissue engineering applications. This review article however mainly focuses on two of the most studied polysaccharide-based (semi)-IPNs, namely those obtained using alginate and hyaluronic acid. An overview of the methods of preparation, the properties, the performances as drug delivery systems and as scaffolds for tissue engineering, of (semi)-IPNs obtained using these two polysaccharides and their derivatives, will be given.