Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Mark McHugh


Biocompatible and biodegradable porous materials based on silk fibroin (SF), a natural protein derived from the Bombyx mori silkworm, are being extensively investigated for use in biomedical applications including mammalian cell bioprocessing, tissue engineering, and drug delivery applications. In this work, low-pressure, gaseous CO2 is used as an acidifying agent to fabricate SF hydrogels. This low-pressure CO2 acidification method is compared to an acidification method using high-pressure CO2 to demonstrate the effect of CO2 mass transfer and pressure on SF sol-gel kinetics. The effect of SF molecular weight on the sol-gel kinetics is determined using the low-pressure CO2 method. The results from these studies demonstrate that low-pressure CO2 processing proves to be a facile method for synthesizing 3D SF hydrogels. We also determined the effect of SF solution concentration on the morphology and textural properties of SF aerogels. Changing the solution concentration from 2 wt% to 6 wt% yielded a higher surface area (260 to 308 m2/g) and different macro structure, but similar mesopore pore volume and size, and micro structure. Furthermore, we determined the effect of drying method on the morphology and textural properties of SF hydrogels gelled via CO2 acidification. Drying with supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2) yielded an aerogel surface area five times larger than aerogels that were freeze dried. Moreover, a freeze dried hydrogel initially frozen at -20 °C had pores approximately 10 µm larger than a hydrogel initially frozen at -196 °C. The results presented here also demonstrate the potential of SF aerogels as drug delivery devices for the extended release of ibuprofen, a model drug compound. SF aerogels are loaded with ~21 wt% of ibuprofen using scCO2 at 40 °C and 100 bar. Differential scanning calorimetry of the ibuprofen-loaded SF aerogels indicates that the ibuprofen is amorphous. Scanning electron microscopy and nitrogen adsorption/desorption analysis are used to investigate the morphology and textural properties. Phosphate buffer solution (PBS) soaking studies at 37 °C and pH 7.4 reveal that the SF aerogels do not swell or degrade for up to six hours. In vitro ibuprofen release in PBS at 37 °C and pH 7.4 occurs over a six-hour period when the ibuprofen is loaded in SF aerogel discs with an aspect ratio of ~1.65 (diameter/thickness), whereas the dissolution of the same amount of pure ibuprofen occurs in 15 minutes. Furthermore, the release of ibuprofen from these SF aerogel discs are modeled using the Fu model which indicates that ibuprofen release follows Fickian diffusion for the first 65 wt% of ibuprofen release, and non-Fickian diffusion for the next 25 wt% of ibuprofen release. We also showed that SF aerogel scaffolds support in vitro human foreskin fibroblast cell attachment, proliferation, propagation, and cell seeding of different densities (10x103, 30x103, and 60x103). In summary, we created and characterized a tunable 3D SF aerogel scaffold with potential for applications in drug delivery and tissue engineering applications.


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Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2014

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Engineering Commons