Currently, several challenges prevent poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) particles from reaching clinical settings. Among these is a lack of understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in the formation of these particles. We have been studying in depth the formation of patchy polymeric particles. These particles are made of PLGA and lipid-polymer functional groups. They have unique patch-core-shell structural features: hollow or solid hydrophobic cores and a patchy surface. Previously, we identified the shear stress as the most important parameter in a patchy particle’s formation. Here, we investigated in detail the role of shear stress in the patchy particle’s internal and external structure using an integrative experimental and computational approach. By cross-sectioning the multipatch particles, we found lipid-based structures embedded in the entire PLGA matrix, which represents a unique finding in the PLGA field. By developing novel computational fluid dynamics and molecular dynamics simulations, we found that the shear stress determines the internal structure of the patchy particles. Equally important, we discovered that these particles emit a photoacoustic (PA) signal in the optical clinical imaging window. Our results show that particles with multiple patches emit a higher PA signal than single-patch particles. This phenomenon most likely is due to the fact that multipatchy particles absorb more heat than single-patchy particles as shown by differential scanning calorimetry analysis. Furthermore, we demonstrated the use of patchy polymeric particles as photoacoustic molecular probes both in vitro and in vivo studies. The fundamental studies described here will help us to design more effective PLGA carriers for a number of medical applications as well as to accelerate their medical translation.

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