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article imageAntibiotic spider silk promises improved drug delivery

By Tim Sandle     Jan 8, 2017 in Science
Nottingham - Researchers are developing a spider silk that has antimicrobial properties, for use with regenerative medicine, wound healing and for drug delivery.
The discovery came about after a chance meeting between an expert on arachnids and a chemist. This meeting led to five years of development work conducted by the University of Nottingham. The outcome of this has been to fashion a method that produces chemically functionalised spider silk. The silk can be used for a range of applications including drug delivery, regenerative medicine and wound healing.
The silk is created by a bacterium via recombinant technology. With this the artificially produced spider silk is synthesised by Escherichia coli bacteria. The reason for using a variant of silk is because it is very strong and it is also biocompatible and biodegradable. In addition, the material does not adversely react with the human body and no immune response is triggered.
The basis of this is something called 'click-chemistry', which allows molecules to be attached to the ‘silk’. Such molecules include antibiotics or fluorescent dyes. The technology allows the selected molecules to be 'clicked' into place in soluble silk protein; once attached, the silk is turned into fibers.
One test showed that once the 'silk' fibres are 'decorated' with an antibiotic called levofloxacin, the molecule is slowly released from the silk and it retains its anti-bacterial activity for up to five days.
Discussing this matter further, Professor Neil Thomas, who co-led the project with Dr. Goodacre, explains: "Our technique allows the rapid generation of biocompatible, mono or multi-functionalised silk structures for use in a wide range of applications. These will be particularly useful in the fields of tissue engineering and biomedicine."
The range of applications is significant, including phased wound healing (through the gradual release of the antibiotic). This partially dates back to Roman times when wounded soldiers were treated with spider webs to stop bleeding.
The idea came together at a discipline-bridging university 'sandpit' meeting five years ago. Dr. Goodacre says her chance meeting at that event with Professor Thomas proved to be one of the most productive afternoons of her career.
The research is published in the journal Advanced Materials and the paper is titled “Antibiotic Spider Silk: Site-Specific Functionalization of Recombinant Spider Silk Using “Click” Chemistry.”
More about Antibiotics, Antimicrobial, spider silk, Spiders
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