After a scientific activity of five years, researchers in Nottingham, U.K., have developed a technique to design synthetic spider silk, which has innate antibiotic properties and could be employed in delivering drugs and closing open wounds. An additional advantage of this technique is the significantly smaller risk of infection.
The material employs silk, synthesized from E. coli bacteria, with molecules adhered to its structure, which is then infused with different substances, thus creating a more efficient bandage. The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) was published in the journal Advanced Materials.
Synthetic Spider Silk, The Future Of Medicine
The results of this research would end the debate on the best comic books superheroes, making Spider-Man win the competition from afar. Spider silk has extraordinary properties, and researchers have thought of ways to employ it in first aid operations. Among its exceptional characteristics, being biocompatible, biodegradable, and protein-based allows it to be incorporated into virtually any kind of treatment without the risk of causing immune, allergic, or inflammatory reactions.
"Our technique allows the rapid generation of biocompatible, mono or multi-functionalized silk structures for use in a wide range of applications," noted Neil Thomas, corresponding author of the study from the University of Nottingham.
According to the researchers, using spider silk as a bandage is not at all uncommon and has ancient historic roots, being popular among ancient Greeks and Romans, who employed it to cover their soldiers' wounds as a means to stop bleeding. As part of the treatment, a mixture of honey and vinegar was used as antiseptic to prevent infections.
Thousands of years later, this same procedure was subjected to the technological processes, benefiting from our technical advancements. The spider silk was replaced with a synthetic equivalent made of the E-coli bacteria in laboratories and was then "adorned" with antibiotic levofloxacin, which is generally used to treat infections caused by a wide range of bacteria.
"There is the possibility of using the silk in advanced dressings for the treatment of slow-healing wounds such as diabetic ulcers," added Thomas.
For the antibiotic to be attached to the synthetic spider silk, the molecules were "clicked" into place before the proteins were turned into the final strands, similarly to a ball of yarn before being assembled.
Synthetic Spider Silk, Uses And Research Directions
During the past two decades, different groups of scientists from around the world have struggled to create the flawless synthetic spider web, due to its properties which allow it to be employed in creating different technologies, from bulletproof vests to outdoor gear.
The team's efforts were not without results. The research shows that, for the first time, click-chemistry was attached to molecules, among which antibiotics and fluorescent dyes, to produce spider web in an artificial environment.
Commenting the team's plans for the following five years, Dr. Sara Goodacre revealed her optimistic thoughts.
"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," she noted.