Maintaining adequate or enhancing mechanical properties of shape memory polymers (SMPs) after shape recovery in an aqueous environment are greatly desired for biomedical applications of SMPs as self-fitting tissue scaffolds or minimally invasive surgical implants. Here we report stable temporary shape fixing and facile shape recovery of biodegradable triblock amphiphilic SMPs containing a poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) center block and flanking poly(lactic acid) or poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) blocks in warm water, accompanied by concomitant enhanced mechanical strengths. Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), wide-angle X-ray diffraction (WXRD), and small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) analyses revealed that the unique stiffening of the amphiphilic SMPs upon hydration was due to hydration-driven microphase separation and PEG crystallization. We further demonstrated that the chemical composition of degradable blocks in these SMPs could be tailored to affect the persistence of hydration-induced stiffening upon subsequent dehydration. These properties combined open new horizons for these amphiphilic SMPs for smart weight-bearing in vivo applications (e.g., as self-fitting intervertebral discs). This study also provides a new material design strategy to strengthen polymers in aqueous environment in general.
- amphiphilic biodegradable polymers,
- hydration-induced stiffening effect,
- minimal invasive surgery,
- shape memory,
- weight-bearing implantation
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jie_song/47/