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Spider silk could be harnessed for regenerative medicine



Spider silk proteins could one day be used to deliver regenerative drugs inside the body thanks to pioneering research from Sweden.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences learned that the proteins can be converted into a gel at body temperature by being fused to biologically active proteins.

The researchers hope to develop an injectable solution which could be used in tissue engineering for drug release.

Anna Rising, research group leader at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet (KI) and professor at the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), said:

“We have developed a completely new method for creating a three-dimensional gel from spider silk that can be designed to deliver different functional proteins.

“The proteins in the gel are very close together and the method is so mild that it can be used even for sensitive proteins.”

The ability to design hydrogels with specific functions has applications beyond the delivery of drugs.

It could also be fused to enzymes used to accelerate certain chemical processes.

First author Tina Arndt, PhD student in Anna Rising’s research group at Karolinska Institutet, said:

“In the slightly longer term, I think injectable gels can become very useful in regenerative medicine.

“We have a long way to go, but the fact that the protein solution quickly forms a gel at body temperature and that the spider silk has been shown to be well tolerated by the body is promising.”

The ability of spiders to spin strong fibres from silk protein has been of interest to scientists for a long time.

The researchers at KI and SLU have been especially interested in how spiders keep proteins soluble so they do not clump together before spinning their webs.

The team previously developed a method that mimics how spiders produce and store the proteins.

Anna Rising said:

“We have previously shown that a specific part of the spider silk protein called the N-terminal domain is produced in large quantities and can keep other proteins soluble, and we can exploit this for medical applications.

“We have let bacteria produce this part of the protein linked to functional proteins, including various drugs and enzymes.”

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