In materials science, spider silk is considered one of the most fascinating products of nature. The protein molecules, from which spider silk is made up of, can nowadays be biotechnologically produced with the help of genetically altered organisms. Possible applications of these biotechnologically produced proteins (called “recombinant proteins”) are the research focus of Prof. Dr. Thomas Scheibel, chairholder for biomaterials at the University of Bayreuth. The lead story of the “Macromolecular Bioscience” journal’s recent issue reports some of his research group’s findings.
Silk particles for transportation of medical agents
Particles of spider silk proteins are eminently suited to release medical agents into an organism in a conciliatory and effective manner for long terms. The process of loading the particles with agents and releasing them is the decisive mechanism that was analysed by the research team around Prof. Scheibel in bench scale testing: at first, medical agents assemble on the surface of a silk particle. When the protein particles come into contact with bodily fluids, the agents’ molecules are released slowly and continuously from the surface into the surroundings.
Silk films for the artificial production of cell tissue
Extremely thin films or foils made of silk proteins constitute another research focus. They are suited as basic material for biochemical sensors that can detect tiny amounts of an organic substance. Of peculiar interest for biomedicine is the possibility to apply silk films for the artificial production of cell tissue („tissue engineering“). This is because on silk surfaces, tissue producing cells that continually reproduce and form coherent structures can be settled on. Those cells may be of different type – for example cell tissue similar to natural bone material, or stem cells that can differentiate into various directions.
Biomaterials – an alternative to synthetic plastics
“It is impressive how versatile spider silk proteins can be applied in biomedicine, pharmaceutics or the textile industry”, explains Scheibel. “Within the last years we have succeeded in increasingly controlling the properties of silk-based biomaterials like films or particles with even greater precision – in a way for them to be functionally optimized for their desired application. This is why biomaterials based on spider silk proteins are an effective alternative to previous synthetic plastics. Nature shows us the way to innovative products in this respect.”
Kristina Spiess, Andreas Lammel, Thomas Scheibel:
Recombinant Spider Silk Proteins for Applications in Biomaterials,
In: Macromolecular Bioscience (2010), Vol. 10, Issue 9, pp. 998–1007,