Sunday, May 22, 2011

Skin Grafting with Spider Silk?

Photo courtesy: I'll Never Grow Up via Flickr/cc

Researchers have been looking for better alternatives for providing skin grafts to wounds, and it turns out they need look no further than the animal kingdom. Spider silk is legendary for its strength, as well as its possible healing properties. Tissue engineer Hanna Wendt at Medical School Hannover in Germany honed in on this and found that by creating an artificial skin spun from spider silk, we could have an ideal answer for helping heal wounds.

The authors write that reconstructive surgeons want a biomaterial that can promote the attachment, proliferation and growth of cells. Essentially, they want a bandaid that can make skin grow again. In looking for this solution, the researchers wove silk harvested from Golden Orb web spiders on steel frames. They found that human skin cells placed on the woven mesh and given the right warmth, air and nutrients will flourish within just a week's time. They were able to harvest from the mesh two types of skin cells that resemble the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) and the dermis (the next layer of skin under the epidermis).

The team concludes that their use of spider silk as a biomaterial for regrowing skin could be, quite literally, just what the doctor ordered.

A mesh layer of the spider silk could potentially be used instead of skin grafts on victims with burns, bed sores, and other wounds, creating an artificial skin that can be replaced with real human skin as cells regenerate.

TechNewsDaily reports "Spider silk is the toughest known natural material. Moreover, there is a body of folklore dating back at least 2,000 years regarding the potential medical value of webs -- for instance, in fighting infections, stemming bleeding, healing wounds and serving as artificial ligaments. The extraordinary strength and stretchiness of spider silk "are important factors for easy handling and transfer of many kinds of implants," Wendt said. In addition, unlike silk from silkworms, that from spiders apparently does not trigger the body's rejection reactions."

While it seems to be a great solution, it is not practical on a commercial scale. Harvesting spider silk for this type of use would be too time consuming and expensive. The researchers figure that finding a synthetic alternative to the silk fibers from spiders would be more practical. However, we know that researchers have been searching for that holy grail for decades. It just goes to show that nature provides some miracle solutions that humans just can't seem to duplicate.

Via TreeHugger

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