Poly(3-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) (PHEMA) hydrogels have been used in the past as ocular implants. In a recent development, PHEMA sponges have shown suitable properties as materials fur the peripheral component of an artificial cornea (keratoprosthrsis). However, the propensity of PHEMA to calcify could threaten the long-term stability of the implanted devices. In an attempt to improve the understanding of the calcification mechanism, the dynamics, extent, and nature of calcified deposits within PHEMA sponges implanted in the cornea were investigated in this study, and the possible correlation between necrosis of cells and calcification was critically examined. Samples of a PHEMA sponge were implanted in rabbit corneas and explanted at predetermined time points (2, 4, and 12 weeks). The samples were examined by microscopy (light, transmission, scanning) and energy dispersive analysis of X-rays. Histological assessment and semiquantitative analysis of the amount of calcium deposited was performed using image analysis. An in vitro experiment was also performed by incubating sponge samples for 2 weeks in a solution of calcium and phosphate ions at a ratio similar to that in hydroxyapatite, in the absence of cells. Calcification was not seen in the 2- and 4-week explants, however, small deposits were detected in two of the 12-week explants, both within and on the sponge's constituent polymer particles. The deposit volumes represented 0.094% and 0.21%, respectively, of the total sponge volumes. Calcium deposits were present in large amounts both within the constituent polymer particles and on the surface of the sponges incubated in the abiotic calcifying solution. Cooperative mechanisms are suggested for the calcification of PHEMA sponges in vivo. The initial event may occur at a molecular level, when plasma proteins are adsorbed onto the polymer surface and bound through chelation to the calcium ions present in the medium. After their natural degradation, these structures may act as nucleation sites for calcium phosphate crystallization. Concurrently, the calcium ions can diffuse into the hydrogel particles and then the spontaneous precipitation of calcium phosphate may be caused by supersaturation due to the levier content of water in polymer, an effect which is likely predominant in vitro. The second event is the recruitment of phagocytic cells to clear calcium debris. Degeneration of these cells may then form nucleation sites for secondary calcification.
Vijayasekaran, L., Chirila, T. V., Robertson, T. A., Lou, X., Fitton, J. H., Hicks, C. R., & Constable, I. (2000). Calcification of poly (2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) hydrogel sponges implanted in the rabbit cornea: A 3-month study. Journal of Biomaterials Science - Polymer Edition, 11(6), 599-615. https://doi.org/10.1163/156856200743896