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Cell repair with spider silk?

Ian JohnsonJanuary 28, 2015

Liquified spider silk extruded in a gel via a three-dimensional printer could soon be regenerating damaged human heart muscle and nerve cells, according to German researchers.

Vogelspinne auf der Hand
Image: Fotolia/Klaus Eppele

Biomaterial experts at Germany's Bayreuth and Würzburg universities claimed a breakthrough in cultivating living cells while holding them in place with liquified spider silk.

The research method mixed spider silk with connective fibroblast cells from mice to generate a so-called "bio ink" or gel. Fibroblasts typically begin wound repairs.

When extruded from a 3-D printer, the silk molecules quickly wrapped those cells, giving them a porous matrix in which to flourish, the team said.

'New possibilities' for regenerative medicine?

Lead researchers, Bayreuth's professor Thomas Scheibel and Würzburg's professor Jürgen Groll said the method opened "completely new possibilities" for the regeneration of heart muscles as well as skin and nerve tissues.

During the development of a new bio ink based on spider silk the research team in Bayreuth and Würzburg achieved a "decisive breakthrough," they told the Pressetext news agency.

The gel flowed through the 3-D device's print head onto an extrusion surface, changing rapidly from its fluid into a firm state.

Could spider silk lead to enhanced cell repair?Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Amsilk GmbH

It was a mechanism that spiders used to make their own fibers, said the researchers, referring to protein-rich spider web known for its lightweight strength and elasticity.

New forms of bio ink sought

Groll said the new research branch of "biofabrication" was urgently looking for new forms of bio inks with varying characteristics to create functional tissues.

The new 3-D silk ink print process opened a "promising" new field of research which could flow into a future Bavarian biopolymer institute, said Groll and Scheibel.

Funding for the project came from the DFG German Research Foundation, the EU and Germany's southern state of Bavaria.

Long-held hopes

From the early 19th century, cultivation of large spiders to extract their natural fiber was attempted in Europe but without great success.

In 2009, Science magazine carried a report that researchers at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Micro Structural Physics in Halle tripled the carrying strength of spider silk by drenching it with trace metals such as zinc, titanium or aluminum.

ipj/sms (pressetext, SID)