-crosslinked wood-based nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC) hydrogel was investigated to build knowledge toward the use of nanocellulose for topical drug delivery applications in a chronic wound healing context. Proteins of varying size and isoelectric point were loaded into the hydrogel in a simple soaking procedure. The release of the proteins from the hydrogel was monitored and kinetics determining parameters of the release processes were assessed. The integrity of the hydrogel and proteins were also studied. The results showed that electrostatic interactions between the proteins and the negatively-charged NFC hydrogel structure played a central role in the loading process. The release of the proteins were governed by Fickian diffusion. An increased protein size, as well as a positive protein charge facilitated a slower and more sustained release process from the hydrogel matrix. At the same time, the positively-charged protein was shown to increase the post-loading hydrogel strength. Released proteins maintained structural stability and activity, thus indicating that the Ca2+
-crosslinked NFC hydrogel could function as a carrier of therapeutic proteins without compromising protein function. It is foreseen that, by utilizing tunable charge properties of the NFC hydrogel, release profiles can be tailored to meet very specific treatment needs.
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