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  • Patent Review: Preparation of Swellable and Deformable Microspheres

    Posted on September 27th, 2010 Microsphere Expert

    United States Patent number 7,794,755 was issued on September 14, 2010, describing the process for preparation of swellable and deformable microspheres. The patent is assigned to E.I. du Pont de Nemours and cites Figuly, Mahajan, and Schiffino as inventors.

    A process for producing microspheres was developed that provides microspheres with new combined properties of high density, low fracture, high swell capacity, rapid swell, and deformability following swell. The process is reliable and high yielding, and makes use of a low temperature azo initiator and a small molecule chlorinated solvent as the organic phase. The microsphere preparation made using the process is particularly useful in medical treatments such as embolization.

    The patent describes a need for microspheres with properties that are advantageous for many types of applications, including medical applications. Microspheres with high density, yet a large capacity to swell in an aqueous environment, would be useful for absorption applications such as small-scale spill control and for delivery applications in which they would carry and release active ingredients such as fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, cosmetics, shampoos, and medications. Microspheres with additional properties of durability and deformability would provide a valuable material for introduction into animals, including humans, for applications such as tissue augmentation, void filling, wound treatment, and embolization. Tissue augmentation involves introduction of materials in a collapsed area to provide a filling function, such as the treatment of scars or wrinkles. Void filling involves introduction of materials into an empty space, such as one created by removal of a tissue mass. Wound treatment involves introduction of materials to stop bleeding, provide padding, deliver medication, and absorb fluids. Such materials are useful especially in emergency situations including accidents and military operations. Embolization treatment involves the introduction of a material into the vasculature in order to block the blood flow in a particular region, and may be used to treat non-cancerous tumors, such as uterine fibroids, and cancerous tumors, as well as to control bleeding caused by conditions such as stomach ulcers, aneurysms, and injury. Blockage may be desired in the case of arteriovenous malformation (AVM), where abnormal connections occur between arteries and veins. Additionally, blockage may be desired for pre-surgical control of blood flow.

    The patented process makes use of a water soluble, low temperature-active azo initiator in an aqueous solution of monomer, crosslinking agent, and emulsifier. A chlorinated organic medium is used in forming a suspension with the aqueous solution. The aqueous solution and organic medium both additionally include protecting colloids. The aqueous solution and organic medium, as well as the mixture of the two, are initially held below the initiation temperature of the azo initiator. The organic medium, which may comprise a chloroform and methylene chloride mixture, should have a high enough boiling temperature that the aqueous soluble azo initiator can be activated to cause polymerization producing microspheres.

    A prevalence of the microspheres are in the size range of about 25 to about 250 microns in diameter, as seen when analyzing a small sample size of microspheres. A heterogeneous size mixture of microspheres may be separated into microsphere samples of specific size ranges, if desired, for specific applications. Microspheres may be separated by methods such as fluidized bed separation and custom sieving, also called screen filtering.

    The swell capacity (amount of water uptake) of microspheres prepared by the described process may vary depending on the amount of crosslinking agent added to the first solution. For example, crosslinking agent may be added in such an amount as to impart a swell capacity to the microspheres of about 50 grams of water per gram of microspheres, an amount to impart a swell capacity of about 70 grams per gram of microspheres, and alternatively an amount to impart a swell capacity of about 100 grams per gram of microspheres.

    An additional attribute of the microspheres prepared by the present process is the capacity to deform following swell. When placed under pressure, the swelled microspheres do not maintain their substantially spherical shape, but compress in the axis of the pressure and expand in the axis that is perpendicular to the pressure. Thus environmental factors, such as pressure of a flowing medium or from the walls of an enclosing container, may cause deformation of the microspheres. In addition, pressure of individual microspheres next to each other may cause deformation. This ability to deform is thought to be imparted and enhanced through the closed cell void structure of the microspheres.

    This ability to deform allows the microspheres to take on a shape of a containing space, and to fill that space. Additionally, deformed microspheres have increased surface area contact with each other, as compared to the contact area between spherical beads. The increased surface area contact between the deformed microspheres provides a more compact structure than is achievable with non-deforming spherical microspheres. This compact structure provides high resistance to penetration. The deformability is highly desirable in some applications such as in embolization treatment, where the deformed, compact microspheres may provide strong blockage at target vascular sites.

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