How did I get myself into the field of thermogels? That is a combination of various stories and chapters in my scientific life. My initial interest in thermogels stemmed from my pre-undergraduate days in 1997. I read a paper published in Nature by the now Professor Byeongmoon Jeong. It was his PhD work at that time (Biodegradable block copolymers as injectable drug-delivery systems, Nature, 1997, 388, 860). Something about that work really fascinated me; it might have been the temperature responsiveness or the potential of creating an injectable drug delivery depot or just because it was such an elegant new material then. I thought about how I could use that for various applications. However, due to limited synthetic experience, I could not make these materials on my own. So the fascination had to take a break while I picked up basic chemistry skills in the university. I never forgot that paper and got to work on the topic during my PhD in 2007. That, in itself, is also a story.
My laboratory then was working on the direction of developing new cyclodextrin host guest materials, which was a nice academic endeavor but really a crowded area of research. I needed something more exciting and took to developing a new type of thermogel in the laboratory. As this was a direction that was different from the laboratory's focus, I had total freedom on what I could develop. The catch? I had no funds and my supervisor mentioned (half in jest, I hoped) that I could look into the chemical inventory and come up with whatever from what was available. I took up the challenge and developed the thermogel that demonstrated the lowest critical gelation concentration at that time and is still the current lowest ever reported. It was a really proud moment as I had conceptualized, designed and synthesized the material entirely from scratch through my own wits and effort. I worked hard and towards a quick graduation in 2009 within 2 years of my candidature and embarked on my independent scientific career.
Today, in 2018, as I sit here reflecting, I feel that many things have been learnt about these thermogels and that I am very grateful to be given this opportunity to curate all of this information in the form of a book. This book is a culmination of more than a year of preparation and hard work by everyone involved. As the two co-editors of this book, David and myself would like to acknowledge the immense effort put in by all the authors. We would also like to acknowledge the guidance and patience of the Royal Society of Chemistry team, particularly Michelle Carey and Connor Sheppard. I would also like to take the time to acknowledge the various key people for their support and collaboration throughout the years. My first acknowledgement goes to Professor Yunlong Wu, from my ex-PhD laboratory, for sticking by me all these years and working closely together to test the in vivo efficacies of these thermogels. Next acknowledgement goes to Dr Zibiao Li, also from my ex-PhD laboratory, for being the nucleus of my research team in IMRE, A*STAR. He has taken on a lot of the directing of the research work in my group as I undertook more and more administrative duties. I am also grateful to my clinical collaborators, Professor Gopal Lingam, Drs Xinyi Su and Zengping Liu. We are pushing really hard to get these thermogels into clinical trials, so please watch this space. I would like to thank my staff, Drs Sing Shy Liow and Lu Jiang, for doing most of the synthesis now that I am quite useless in the laboratory. Finally and most importantly, I am extremely grateful to my parents, Moi Joo Loh and Joo Gek Lim for always being there for me, for every dinner time discussion of my work, for trying to understand the things that I wrote in my manuscripts and for encouraging and supporting me all the way. All my thermogel work is dedicated to my late grandfather, Seak Liang Lim, for being my role model, for sparking my creativity in various aspects of my life and for just being around for me and listening to a “really strange technology” (as he knew it) during my university and PhD days. He passed away in the year that I graduated with my PhD and I hope that I have made him proud with my achievements in this area since then.
Xian Jun Loh
David James Young