Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type





Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Kimberly Ward Anderson

Second Advisor

Dr. James Zachary Hilt


Currently, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Conventional cancer treatment includes chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical resection, but unfortunately, all of these methods have significant drawbacks. Hyperthermia, the heating of cancerous tissues to between 41 and 45°C, has been shown to improve the efficacy of cancer therapy when used in conjunction with irradiation and/or chemotherapy. In this work, a novel method for remotely administering heat is presented. This method involves heating of tumor tissue using hydrogel nanocomposites containing magnetic nanoparticles which can be remotely heated upon exposure to an external alternating magnetic field (AMF). The iron oxide nanoparticles contained in the hydrogel nanocomposites are able to heat via an AMF due to Brownian and Neel relaxation processes. The administration of hyperthermia via hydrogel nanocomposites allows for local delivery of heat to tumor tissue while also providing a drug depot to deliver chemotherapeutic agents. Both in vivo and in vitro studies have demonstrated that numerous chemotherapeutic agents, when used in conjunction with hyperthermia, show improved efficacy in treating cancer

Various magnetic hydrogel nanocomposites were synthesized and characterized for this work including poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG)-based hydrogels, which were studied due to their inherent biocompatibility and “stealth” properties, as well as, poly(β-amino ester) (PBAE)-based hydrogels which have tailorable degradation properties. The PEG hydrogels were investigated for their temperature-responsiveness swelling, mechanical strength, heating capabilities, biocompatibility, ability to kill M059K glioblastoma cells via thermoablation, and the ability to deliver paclitaxel, a chemotherapeutic agent. PBAE hydrogels were also characterized for their degradation and swelling properties, ability to heat upon exposure to an AMF, biocompatibility, mechanical strength, and ability to deliver paclitaxel in a controlled fashion. Additionally, multiple cancer cell lines were exposed to a combination of paclitaxel and heat (at 42.5 °C) in vitro and it was shown that A539 lung carcinoma cells exhibit higher cytotoxicity when exposed to both heat and paclitaxel than either treatment alone. Overall, magnetic hydrogel nanocomposites are promising materials that can be utilized for the multi-modality treatment of cancer through the synergistic delivery of both heat and chemotherapeutic agents.