A fashionable type of medicine

spidersilknwebA recent CNN.com article describes new and unusual ways of re-growing broken bones and fixing holes in human hearts.  The novel methods involve molecules found in spider silk and the popular waterproof apparel material, Gore-Tex.  At Tufts University, scientists are researching new ways to use spider silk to genetically engineer new bone tissue.  The Department of Biomedical Engineering is trying to utilize the silk’s building-block proteins to create a scaffold material on which new bones or teeth can be grown.  Silk has six times the tensile strength of a steel fiber of equal diameter, but is biocompatible with the human body.  The desired scaffolding material would be used to fill a hole or a break in a tooth or bone.  Tufts scientists plan to take stem cells from elsewhere in the patient’s body to initiate replacement tissue growth.  Silk’s biodegradable nature would allow the scaffold to dissolve over time, much like the soluble stitches used in today’s dentistry.

At Rush University in Indiana, Gore-Tex is being investigated as a viable material to repair holes in the human heart.  Cardiologist Dr. Ziyad Hijazi has shaped the Gore-Tex material into a small umbrella and proposes that it be used to cover a common hole in the upper chamber of the human heart called the Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO).  The PFO is not usually dangerous, but can be for stroke victims.  The Gore-Tex umbrella device, named the Gore-Helex Septal Occluder, has seen success in plugging another type of heart hole.  The PFO hole is suspected to contribute to 40% of strokes in the U.S., so if the device proves successful in coming trials, the new technology could make a big difference in the treatment of stroke patients.

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  1. cdillon

    Turns out the silk research won’t just lead to help inside the body…researchers also think that insights into ‘silk processing’ might lead to new high-strength materials for sports equipment or potentially protective clothing for law enforcement.

    Guess I should re-think my hatred of spiders.

    23 October 2009

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