Spider silk nanomembranes aid artificial tissue formation
Lab-grown tissues are of interest in medical treatment, for example in transplants, or to study biologic processes in so-called "in vitro models". A typical process to grow tissue in the lab involves seeding cells on an artificial scaffold and letting them grow into a tissue.
We investigated the fabrication and use of silk membranes as scaffolds for cell growth. We showed how to constructed silk membranes of large area (cm-size) that at the same time are ultrathin: only 2-300 nm, i.e., one-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair. The fact that spider silk is one of nature's strongest materials, allowed us to handle such flimsy membranes without rupture. The membranes are not only strong, but also super flexible (stretches 220%), biodegradable, protein permeable, and support the proliferation of cells. These properties could uniquely allow growing different cell types on the different sides of the membrane in very close proximity, which allows cells on the opposing sides to communicate with each other.
We demonstrated the growth of a coherent layer of skin cells, which we believe could be of direct interest for the treatment of wounds, and our findings could be of further interest for other surgical transplants. Other potential applications include new in vitro models of the endothelium and mural cells, lung epithelia, the blood-brain barrier and the gastrointestinal tract.
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