Every few months or so, researchers announce a new breakthrough with silk. For instance, earlier this year in March, scientists from the US Air Force Research Laboratory reported that they had transformed the material into a bactericidal fabric. In February, researchers at University of Akron had developed a spider-silk inspired thread for wound-healing applications.
Now, David Kaplan, PhD, chair of biomedical engineering at Tufts University, whose interest in silk goes back for decades, has helped develop a silk-reinforced biodegradable material that can provide significant mechanical support during bone repair. He and a group of biomedical engineers at Tufts University’s School of Engineering have developed micron-sized fibers that reinforce the matrix much as steel rebar reinforces concrete in construction. Potential applications of the scaffold include bone and tissue repair following accidents or diseases.
The biodegradable composite was created by fusing silk protein microfibers to a silk protein scaffold. The resulting material offers a high-compressive strength and has been shown to support cell responses related to bone formation in vitro. The material mimics the mechanical properties of native bone. Its matrix stiffness and surface roughness were shown to improve human mesenchymal stem cell differentiation when compared to silk sponges that were used as a control.
Kaplan explained in a press release that the scaffold could be used for a number of “tissue systems where control of mechanical properties is useful and has broad applications for regenerative medicine.”
In 2010, Kaplan explained in an interview with NPR that silk has been difficult to recreate in the lab as it is a very high molecular weight polymer and scientists are still learning about its chemical properties. Nevertheless, the scientific understanding of the material has advanced over the years, which is part of the reason for the recent frequent research breakthroughs with the material.
Press release: High-Strength Silk Scaffolds Improve Bone Repair