Healing our wounds with spider silk

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

silkworm
Silkworms create way more silk than spiders do, which is why Dr. Nick Skaer’s team found a way to mimic the spider’s tough version with the abundant wormy kind.

Spiders spin silky strands to make their webs, but if you’ve ever been unlucky enough to walk through one, they’re pretty soft and fragile. However, golden orb weavers weave a different story, because these eight-legged maestros make silk that’s 25 times stronger than steel! Now, since this material is biocompatible (meaning it can be used to replace living tissue) scientists want to use it to heal damaged human cells.

Dr. Nick Skaer, CEO of biomaterials company Orthox, explains there’s a similarity between spider silk molecules and the proteins in human cells. So, he wanted to test how the ultra-strong silk blends together with damaged human tissue.

Unfortunately, the spiders take a long time to create enough of their silk, so Skaer turned to silkworms. These little guys can produce 1,000 times more silk than a spider, so Skaer’s team broke down the wormy molecules and rearranged them in a way that’s tightly-woven like the spider silk. The invention, called FibroFix, will be used to repair knees in a way that doesn’t require the usual harsh surgery to fully replace them. His team’s not stopping there, either, as they look forward to using their device for healing shoulders, ankles, hips, and spines.


Featured image courtesy of Clicksy on Flickr. Image of silkworm threads courtesy of John Athayde on Flickr.