Poly(ethylene carbonate) (PEC) is a unique biomaterial showing significant potential for controlled drug delivery applications. The current study investigated the impact of the molecular weight on the biological performance of drug-loaded PEC films.
Following the preparation and thorough physicochemical characterization of diverse PEC (molecular weights: 85, 110, 133, 174 and 196 kDa), the degradation and drug release behavior of rifampicin- and bovine serum albumin-loaded PEC films was investigated in vitro (in the presence and absence of cholesterol esterase), in cell culture (RAW264.7 macrophages) and in vivo (subcutaneous implantation in rats). All investigated samples degraded by means of surface erosion (mass loss, but constant molecular weight), which was accompanied by a predictable, erosion-controlled drug release pattern. Accordingly, the obtained in vitro degradation half-lives correlated well with the observed in vitro half-times of drug delivery (R2 = 0.96). Here, the PEC of the highest molecular weight resulted in the fastest degradation/drug release. When incubated with macrophages or implanted in animals, the degradation rate of PEC films superimposed the results of in vitro incubations with cholesterol esterase. Interestingly, SEM analysis indicated a distinct surface erosion process for enzyme-, macrophage- and in vivo-treated polymer films in a molecular weight-dependent manner.
Overall, the molecular weight of surface-eroding PEC was identified as an essential parameter to control the spatial and temporal on-demand degradation and drug release from the employed delivery system.