Synthesis and application of poly(ethylene glycol)-co-poly(β-amino ester) copolymers for small cell lung cancer gene therapy

Jayoung Kim, Yechan Kang, Stephany Y. Tzeng, Jordan J. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The design of polymeric nanoparticles for gene therapy requires engineering of polymer structure to overcome multiple barriers, including prolonged colloidal stability during formulation and application. Poly(β-amino ester)s (PBAEs) have been shown effective as polymeric vectors for intracellular DNA delivery, but limited studies have focused on polymer modifications to enhance the stability of PBAE/DNA polyplexes. We developed block copolymers consisting of PBAE oligomer center units and poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) end units. We fabricated a library of PEG-PBAE polyplexes by blending PEGylated PBAEs of different PEG molecular weights and non-PEGylated PBAEs of different structures at various mass ratios of cationic polymer to anionic DNA. Non-PEGylated PBAE polyplexes aggregated following a 24 h incubation in acidic and physiological buffers, presenting a challenge for therapeutic use. In contrast, among 36 PEG-PBAE polyplex formulations evaluated, certain polyplexes maintained a small size under these conditions. These selected polyplexes were further evaluated for transfection in human small cell lung cancer cells (H446) in the presence of serum, and the best formulation transfected ∼40% of these hard-to-transfect cells while preventing polymer-mediated cytotoxicity. When PEG-PBAE polyplex delivered Herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase plasmid in combination with the prodrug ganciclovir, the polyplexes killed significantly more H446 cancer cells (35%) compared to healthy human lung fibroblasts (IMR-90) (15%). These findings indicate that PEG-PBAE polyplexes can maintain particle stability without compromising their therapeutic function for intracellular delivery to human small cell lung cancer cells, demonstrate potential cancer specificity, and have potential as safe materials for small cell lung cancer gene therapy. Statement of Significance Many natural and synthetic biomaterials have been investigated as non-viral vectors to deliver nucleic acids for cancer therapy. However, there are multiple hurdles to successful transfection including achieving particle stability, efficient delivery to cancer cells, and low cytotoxicity. In particular, engineering the physicochemical surface properties of a nanoparticle to improve stability is often offset by a decrease in the cellular entry and transfection efficiency. We developed stable polymeric nanoparticles that demonstrate high transfection efficiency by modifying synthetic biodegradable cationic polymers and engineering nanoparticle formulations using a combinatorial approach. The results of this study show the potential of biodegradable surface-modified polymeric nanoparticles as clinically translatable, biomaterial-based vehicles for cancer gene therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-301
Number of pages9
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016


  • Gene therapy
  • Lung cancer
  • Polyethylene glycol
  • Polymeric nanoparticle
  • Surface modification


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