Gene therapy scientists have developed expression systems for therapeutic transgenes within patients, which must be seamlessly integrated into the patient's physiology by developing sophisticated control mechanisms to titrate expression levels of the transgenes into the therapeutic window. However, despite these efforts, gene-based medicine still faces security concerns related to the administration of the therapeutic transgene vector. Here, molecular tools developed for therapeutic transgene expression can readily be transferred to materials science to design a humanized drug depot that can be implanted into mice and enables the trigger-inducible release of a therapeutic protein in response to a small-molecule inducer. The drug depot is constructed by embedding the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF121) as model therapeutic protein into a hydrogel consisting of linear polyacrylamide crosslinked with a homodimeric variant of the human FK-binding protein 12 (FM), originally developed for gene therapeutic applications, as well as with dimethylsuberimidate. Administrating increasing concentrations of the inducer molecule FK506 triggers the dissociation of FM thereby loosening the hydrogel structure and releasing the VEGF121 payload in a dose-adjustable manner. Subcutaneous implantation of the drug depot into mice and subsequent administration of the inducer by injection or by oral intake triggers the release of VEGF121 as monitored in the mouse serum. This study is the first demonstration of a stimuli-responsive hydrogel that can be used in mammals to release a therapeutic protein on demand by the application of a small-molecule stimulus. This trigger-inducible release is a starting point for the further development of externally controlled drug depots for patient-compliant administration of biopharmaceuticals.
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