Spider silk may be the answer for artificial skin

Spider silk may be the answer for artificial skin

Skin grafts are vital for treating burn victims and other patients and scientists were looking for a material that would be tolerated by the human body and can be used for a graft instead of skin from a body.

Materials investigated until now did not seem strong enough for the task. But a team of researchers in Germany now found that spider silk can be the most compatible material for the task, LiveScience reported.

The extraordinary strength and stretchiness of spider silk "are important factors for easy handling and transfer of many kinds of implants," said Hanna Wendt, a tissue engineer at the Medical School Hannover.

In addition, Wendt said, unlike silk from silkworms, that from spiders apparently does not trigger the body's rejection reactions.

To test spider silk's usefulness, first Wendt and her colleagues essentially milked golden silk orb-weaver spiders by stroking their silk glands and spooling up the silk fibers that came out.

They next wove meshes from this silk onto steel frames and found that human skin cells placed on these meshes could flourish, given proper nurturing with nutrients, warmth and air, the researchers reported in the journal PLoS ONE.

They were able to cultivate the two main skin cell types, keratinocytes and fibroblasts, into tissue-like patterns resembling epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, and dermis, the layer of living tissue below the epidermis that contains blood capillaries, nerve endings, sweat glands, hair follicles and other structures.

"It was impressive to observe how human cells use spider silk," Wendt said.

Harvesting large amounts of spider silk for industrial standards is not practical at present.
"I think in the long term, for widespread daily clinical use, synthetic silk fibers providing the same mechanical- and cell culture- properties will be needed," Wendt said.

There is a body of folklore dating back at least 2,000 years regarding the potential medical value of spider webs — for instance, in fighting infections, stemming bleeding, healing wounds and serving as artificial ligaments.

Currently, many research groups are investigating ways to grow synthetic spider silk.

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