Silk from spiders and worms can act as new nerve damage treatment

The materials allow for a more effective regrowth of damaged nerve cells.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Spider silk.jpg

Nerve guides made of natural or synthetic materials are often used as surgical tools for nerve repair, but they come with many limitations. They can only be used to bridge very small distances due to a lack of an appropriate structure along which the regenerating tissue can orient itself and grow.

Now, researchers from the University of Oxford and MedUni Vienna engineered a novel, superior, and more effective type of nerve guide using two different types of natural silk. It combines material produced by silkworms (Bombyx mori) and silk fibers from golden orb-web spiders (Trichonephila edulis). 

This is according to a press release by the University of Oxford published on Monday.

The innovation was tested in rats whose right sciatic nerve had been cut and revealed that the damaged nerves adapted to the novel silk nerve guides and grew along the silk threads until the severed endings successfully reconnected.

The research indicated that both types of silk played an important part in nerve regeneration. The silkworm silk tubes were supplied by Oxford Biomaterials. 

“Animal silks offer exceptional mechanical and biological properties and versatile manufacturing possibilities to assist the re-engineering of tissue. Our advanced silk-in-silk nerve guides combine the excellent ability of silkworm silk to be processed into three-dimensional structures with the outstanding cell adhesion qualities of spider dragline silk,” said Professor Fritz Vollrath, a co-founder of Oxford Biomaterials and a co-author on this study.

Natural materials

Natural materials are ideal for use as nerve guides as they degrade over time and produce hardly any immune response in animal models. They can also be highly abundant.

Now, the researchers hope to develop the silk nerve guides into an “off-the-shelf” solution to treat nerve injuries in humans. Current solutions see nerve injuries with large gaps treated by grafting nerves harvested from other areas of the patient’s body, a process that has many drawbacks.

Newrotex is currently completing final pre-clinical studies of the new material with the aim of bringing a functional device suitable for humans to the market. 

“Peripheral nerve injuries have a devastating impact on patients worldwide. This study provides further evidence of the incredible regenerative properties of silk within the nervous system and demonstrates its exciting utility and potential as a material to address the unmet clinical need for an “off-the-shelf” technology to treat nerve injuries,“ said in a statement Newrotex CEO and founder Dr. Alex Woods.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board