Silk microspheres for encapsulation and controlled release

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A method was developed to prepare silk fibroin microspheres using lipid vesicles as templates to efficiently load protein drugs in active form for controlled release. The lipid was subsequently removed by methanol or sodium chloride treatments, resulting in silk microspheres consisting of β-sheet structure and about 2 μm in diameter. NaCl treated microspheres had smoother surfaces compared to the methanol treatments based on SEM analysis, and both types of microspheres had a mixture of multilamellar and unilamellar structures. A model protein drug, horseradish peroxidase, was encapsulated in the microspheres. Freeze-thaw cycles during preparation led to higher loading of the peroxidase due to improved mixing between the silk and drug, while without this process the drug and silk remained in separate layers or domains in microspheres. This partitioning was determined with fluorescein-labeled silk and rhodamine-labeled dextran. Small molecules such as the enzyme substrate 3,3′,5,5′-tetramethylbenzidine, Mw=240 Da, and its oxidized product freely diffused through the MeOH- and NaCl-processed silk microspheres so that enzyme loading and activity could be determined. Enzyme activity was retained during processing and in the final microspheres. The enzyme release profile depended on the NaCl-process used in microsphere preparation. The physically cross-linked β-sheet structure of silk fibroin and the residual lipids in the microspheres played important roles in controlling enzyme release profiles. The silk microspheres have the potential for diverse applications where controlled protein release from biocompatible, mechanically tough, and slowly biodegradable carriers is desirable.

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