Implantable drug delivery systems that provide controlled and sustained release of a therapeutic agent are used in a wide variety of applications. Drug eluting stents, which are used to treat coronary artery disease, are among the most widespread of these devices, with an estimated 3 × 106 implants annually worldwide. Controlling the rate of drug release from these devices relies on precise control of the three dimensional (3D)-distribution of the drug, so methods for measuring this distribution are of great importance. The aims of this work were to determine how 3D-imaging of polymer-free sirolimus/probucol drug eluting stent coatings could be improved through the use of laser postionization secondary neutral mass spectrometry (Laser-SNMS) and Ar cluster sputtering with time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) and to optimize conditions for this analysis. In this study, 3D-imaging of a sirolimus/probucol dual drug eluting stent has been investigated using Laser-SNMS and ToF-SIMS. Laser-SNMS studies of pure sirolimus and probucol were undertaken using 30 keV Bi3+ primary ions and a 157 nm excimer postionization laser. Under optimal conditions, a greater than 100-fold increase in detected ion yield was observed for Laser-SNMS when compared to ToF-SIMS, although ToF-SIMS provided equal or greater yields for higher mass characteristic ions. Although the optimal laser power density for detecting probucol (5 × 106 W/cm2) was significantly lower than the optimum for sirolimus (7 × 107 W/cm2), an intermediate laser power density of 1 × 107 W/cm2 was sufficient to allow imaging of both drugs. Using individual selected ion signals, ToF-SIMS and Laser-SNMS produced similar images of the two drug species. When using, however, a multivariate approach (maximum autocorrelation factors), Laser-SNMS provided significant improvements in image contrast and small area detection when compared to ToF-SIMS. Following optimization of the technique, 3D-images of the dual drug eluting stent coating were obtained using 10 keV Ar2000+ cluster ions for sputtering and 30 keV Bi3+ cluster ions for analysis for both ToF-SIMS and Laser-SNMS. This work demonstrates the advantages of Laser-SNMS for 3D-imaging of pharmaceutical devices, which has not been previously published. Both ToF-SIMS and Laser-SNMS revealed that the outermost surface of the drug eluting coating contained pure sirolimus to a depth of a few tens of nanometers, with a few channels of sirolimus extending to a depth of around 1 μm. Below about 1 μm, the two drugs were uniformly mixed. Using the 10 keV Ar2000+ sputter beam, the authors were able to sputter through the complete drug coating (∼6 μm) without observing any accumulated damage in the organic layer. The two techniques showed complementary strengths: ToF-SIMS offers faster data collection and better detected ion yield for larger characteristic ions than Laser-SNMS, and Laser-SNMS offers significantly enhanced detected ion yield for smaller fragment ions, allowing for improved image contrast and resolution of smaller features.

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