Conspectus Poly(α-hydroxy acids) (PAHAs) are a class of biodegradable and biocompatible polymers that are widely used in numerous applications. One drawback of these conventional polymers, however, is their lack of side-chain functionalities, which makes it difficult to conjugate active moieties to PAHA or to fine-tune the physical and chemical properties of PAHA-derived materials through side-chain modifications. Thus, extensive efforts have been devoted to the development of methodology that allows facile preparation of PAHAs with controlled molecular weights and a variety of functionalities for widespread utilities. However, it is highly challenging to introduce functional groups into conventional PAHAs derived from ring-opening polymerization (ROP) of lactides and glycolides to yield functional PAHAs with favorable properties, such as tunable hydrophilicity/hydrophobicity, facile postpolymerization modification, and well-defined physicochemical properties.Amino acids are excellent resources for functional polymers because of their low cost, availability, and structural as well as stereochemical diversity. Nevertheless, the synthesis of functional PAHAs using amino acids as building blocks has been rarely reported because of the difficulty of preparing large-scale monomers and poor yields during the synthesis. The synthesis of functionalized PAHAs from O-carboxyanhydrides (OCAs), a class of five-membered cyclic anhydrides derived from amino acids, has proven to be one of the most promising strategies and has thus attracted tremendous interest recently. In this Account, we highlight the recent progress in our group on the synthesis of functional PAHAs via ROP of OCAs and their self-assembly and biomedical applications. New synthetic methodologies that allow the facile preparation of PAHAs with controlled molecular weights and various functionalities through ROP of OCAs are reviewed and evaluated. The in vivo stability, side-chain functionalities, and/or trigger responsiveness of several functional PAHAs are evaluated. Their biomedical applications in drug and gene delivery are also discussed. The ready availability of starting materials from renewable resources and the facile postmodification strategies such as azide-alkyne cycloaddition and the thiol-yne "click" reaction have enabled the production of a multitude of PAHAs with controlled molecular weights, narrow polydispersity, high terminal group fidelities, and structural diversities that are amenable for self-assembly and bioapplications. We anticipate that this new generation of PAHAs and their self-assembled nanosystems as biomaterials will open up exciting new opportunities and have widespread utilities for biological applications.
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