Dextran-based hydrogels were obtained by polymerization of aqueous solutions of methacrylated dextran (dex-MA) or lactate-hydroxyethyl methacrylate-derivatized dextran (dex-lactate-HEMA). Both nondegradable dex-MA and degradable dex-lactate-HEMA disk-shaped hydrogels, varying in initial water content and degree of substitution (DS, the number of methacrylate groups per 100 glucose units), were implanted subcutaneously in rats. The tissue reaction was evaluated over a period of 6 weeks. The initial foreign-body reaction to the dex-MA hydrogels was characterized by infiltration of granulocytes and macrophages and the formation of fibrin, and exudate, as well as new blood vessels. This reaction depended on the initial water content as well as on the DS of the hydrogel and decreased within 10 days. The mildest tissue response was observed for the gel with the highest water content and intermediate DS. At day 21 all dex-MA hydrogels were surrounded by a fibrous capsule and no toxic effects on the surrounding tissue were found. No signs of degradation were observed. The initial foreign-body reaction to the degradable dex-lactate-HEMA hydrogels was less severe compared with the dex-MA gels. In general, the size of the dex-lactate-HEMA hydrogels increased progressively with time and finally the gels completely dissolved. Degradation of the dex-lactate-HEMA hydrogels was associated with infiltration of macrophages and the formation of giant cells, both of which phagocytosed pieces of the hydrogel. A good correlation between the in vitro and the in vivo degradation time was found. This suggests that extra-cellular degradation is not caused by enzymes but depends only on hydrolysis of the ester and/or carbonate bonds present in the crosslinks of the hydrogels. After 21 days, the degradable hydrogels, as such, could not be retrieved, but accumulation of macrophages and giant cells was observed, both of which contained particles of the gels intracellularly. As for the dex-MA hydrogels, no toxic effects on the surrounding tissue were found. The results presented in this study demonstrate that dextran-based hydrogels can be considered as biocompatible materials, making these hydrogels attractive systems for drug delivery purposes.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.