After five years of work, a group of scientists at the University of Nottingham in the UK have been able to artificially create synthetic spider silk that can close wounds and distribute drugs with a reduced risk of infection.
The team of scientists were led by Professor Neil Thomas from the School of Chemistry and Dr. Sara Goodacre from the School of Life Sciences. They took silk, which was synthesized from E.coli bacteria, and attached molecules such as antibiotics and fluorescent dyes to the silk’s structure. They then soaked it in various substances, making a better bandage. They used the idea of ‘click-chemistry’. ‘Click-chemistry’ is a term used to describe certain types of reactions.
“Our technique allows the rapid generation of biocompatible, mono or multi-functionalised silk structures for use in a wide range of applications,” said Neil Thomas, a Professor of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry from the University of Nottingham.
“These will be particularly useful in the fields of tissue engineering and biomedicine.”
The spider silk makes a great bandage. It is biocompatible, biodegradable, and protein-based. This allows it to be added to any treatment without causing any immune, inflammatory, or allergic reactions. It can also expedite, or speed up, the growth of new tissues and slowly release antibiotics.
This team of scientists from the Nottingham University revealed that they were not the first to recognize the magical properties of the spider silk. It was the Romans and Greeks. They used the spider silk to help treat the soldiers’ wounds and stop the bleeding. They would first rub a mixture of honey and vinegar onto the wound
to clean it. After doing so, they wrapped the wound with many layers of spider silk.
The team used a similar idea, but instead of using real spider silk, they used strands of spider silk that was synthesized from E.coli bacteria in a lab. In addition to not using
actual spider silk, the team is doing so on a smaller, more scientific basis. After synthesizing the silk, it is then covered with antibiotic levofloxacin, which is a drug usually used to cure bacterial infections. In order to add the antibiotics, the molecules were ‘clicked’ into place. This occurred before the proteins transformed into the final strands. This method is similar to a ball of yarn before it is manufactured.
Neil Thomas and Dr. Sara Goodacre, who are leading the team of scientists, actually met by chance. They met about five years ago at an event. Dr. Sara Goodacre was talking to the audience about her idea to create an antibiotic spider web and even asked them to help her.
“At the end of the session Neil came up to me and said ‘I think my group could make that’,” said Dr. Goodacre.
“He also suggested that there might be more interesting ‘tweaks’ one could make so that the silk could be ‘decorated’ with different, useful, compounds either permanently or which could be released over time due to a change in the acidity of the environment.”
The research is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and their research is published in the journal Advanced Materials. Neil Thomas and Dr. Sara Goodacre are leading a team of BBSRC DTP-funded PhD students including David Harvey, Victor Tudorica, Leah Ashley, and Tom Coekin.
Dr. Goodacre shared some of her thoughts on the team’s plans in the coming years saying, “Some of the future work will also be supported by other, neat ideas from the world of spiders and their silk, which the SpiderLab is currently trying to unravel.”
By Sarah El Sharkawi
Rusu, Livia. “‘Click-Chemistry’ Produces Antibiotic Spider Silk for Drug Delivery, Wound Healing”. Tech Times. Jan 8 2017. http://www.techtimes.com/articles/191735/20170108/click-chemistry-produces-antibiotic-spider-silk-for-drug-delivery-wound-healing.htm
University of Nottingham. “Antibiotic Spider Silk for Drug Delivery, Regenerative Medicine and Wound Healing”. Science Daily. Jan 4 2017. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170104103533.htm
Hrala, Josh. “Researches Have Created an Antibiotic Spider Silk that Heals Wounds”. Science Alert. Jan 7 2017. http://www.sciencealert.com/researchers-have-created-an-antibiotic-spider-silk-that-can-heal-wounds