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Spider silk could be used to create artificial skin to help heal wounds

Unless your name is Peter Parker, you may not be aware of quite how versatile spider silk is as a material. In fact, aside from spinning webs, spider silk can also be used for a plethora of applications — from improving the quality of microphones in hearing aids to forming incredibly strong-yet-lightweight shields to forming microcapsules for delivering anti-cancer vaccines.

Now researchers from Sweden and India have come up with yet another novel use for spider silk’s unusual mix of strength and elasticity: Creating artificial skin and wound dressings for helping heal wounds.

“We have developed two types of silk-based constructs: Nanofibrous matrices which serve as bioactive wound dressings, and microporous sponges cultured with human skin cells to serve as artificial skin,” Biman Mandal, an associate professor in the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, told Digital Trends. “Both types of constructs are made up of silkworm silk fibroin biomaterial acting as bulk platform, and are top-coated with recombinant spider silk fusion proteins. The recombinant spider silk protein contains bioactive peptides like cell-binding motifs, antimicrobial peptides, and growth factor domain.”

The hope is that the dressings could be used to treat chronic wounds like diabetic foot ulcers, which otherwise can be a challenge to heal. The cellular skin grafts, meanwhile, could be used as full thickness bilayer skin for grafting purposes in the case of critical third-degree burns. Due to its similarity to skin, the material may also find use as a skin substitute to screen certain drug molecules for the cosmeceutical industry.

“Next, we have plans to validate our results in animal models, particularly diabetic wound model and third-degree burn model,” Mandal continued. “We are keen to understand how these grafts help in accelerated healing in animal models. If successful, we would be able to translate our research into useful products for wound-healing applications in the future.”

Mandal noted that approach the team used is scalable thanks to the cheap bulk availability of silkwork silk from sericulture farms, and the recombinant spider proteins from a Swedish company called Spiber Technologies.

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

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