Tuesday, 18 Nov, 2008 Science
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Scientists to Use Silk to Recreate Bone and Teeth

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A biomedical engineer from the United States claims that silkworms and spiders could help scientists in developing healthy bone tissue, which would replace damaged bone and/or teeth. According to Professor David Kaplan, who works at the Tufts University of Massachusetts, the silks of spiders and silkworms represent one of the strongest natural fibers on the planet, showing incredible features in terms of tension and compression.

It is worth noting that silk is bio-compatible, thus scientists can use it in humans. Mr Kaplan stated that silk was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, which allowed it to be used in early human clinical trials. Silk is a very stable material able to maintain its features in natural environment. In addition, it doesn't break at high temperatures. However, in case this happens, silk breaks down into amino acids that are not detrimental for the body.

Together with his team, Kaplan hopes to use spider and silkworm silks to reconstruct bone matrix, which represents the main scaffolding of bone. "We have learned how to make some pretty nice bone using silk as versatile protein-based matrix," he said.

Scientists managed to reconstruct the matrix and organize its structure, including the dimension of the pores within the matrix, by dissolving and re-engineering the silk protein. These experiments helped recreate a variety of structural aspects of different bone types. After the matrix is formed, scientists can drop special stem cells, obtained from bone marrow, into the matrix. Inside the matrix these can set off the creation and development of healthy bone.

"We have tremendous morphological control, that starts to look very much like the cross section of your long bones," said Kaplan. The team also managed to develop silk scaffolds shaped like a tooth, thus being able to regrow tooth tissue by simply seeding the silk scaffolds with stem cells.

Currently silkworm silk is considered to be more readily available, though spider silk may also be used. It is crucial to treat the silk chemically before using it in the body. Chemical treatment is used to get rid of the sticky sheath that covers the pure silk fibres, otherwise the sheath may produce an adverse reaction from the immune system.

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