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Research Headlines - Silks and shells can repair human tissue

© ermess #212248978, source:stock.adobe.com 2020

Natural fibres from materials such as silk and crab shells could be used in medicine to replace synthetic materials like plastics to fix damaged human tissue.

Under the EU-funded project REMIX, tissue-engineering researchers from Europe and Asia are developing the naturally derived materials’ unique traits for tissue repair to help patients overcome illnesses, as well as for use in medical prosthetics and as carriers for drugs.

‘We’re working on the design and use of artificial matrixes derived from silk and other materials that can communicate with the biological environment, helping the process of healing and regeneration of tissues damaged by disease or trauma,’ says Professor Antonella Motta, researcher at the University of Trento, Italy, and REMIX project coordinator.

The project is focusing on reusing the silk that is a waste product in the textile industry as well as other waste materials like leftover cashmere animal hairs, polymers derived from plants and algae, and waste food products from crustaceans and marine organisms, including jellyfish. This means they are inexpensive, sustainable and natural, and fit into the concept of a circular economy by giving waste products a new life.

Cell regeneration with silk

Under the project, scientists from the University of Trento in Italy and the University of Chonbuk in South Korea have already discovered that silk, collagen and laminin – a protein found in human tissue – can be used to construct a molecule that mimics a natural, extra-cellular matrix structure that can help with the regeneration of cells in the body’s central nervous system.

Meanwhile, researchers from Italy, Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and the Mongolian University of Science and Technology have incorporated sea buckthorn oil into alginate hydrogels to treat damaged skin.

Researchers from Thailand and the University of Minho, Portugal have worked together to develop a process that accelerates the gelation of a silk solution using phospholipids found in soya, rapeseed, sunflower, chicken eggs, bovine milk and fish eggs. This material could then be injected into wounds to fill in damaged areas, reducing the invasiveness of surgical procedures. REMIX has already submitted two patents on two of the techniques its scientists have developed.

Regeneration and regrowth

The project has also made significant advances in the field of natural prosthetics. Medical prosthetics are currently made of plastics – including polyethylene, polypropylene, acrylics and polyurethane – as well as some natural materials. Previously, materials such as wood, rubber and lightweight metals were used.

The natural silk used in REMIX is made by silkworms and silk spiders; it has the advantages of being lighter on the environment and having less impact on the human body. ‘Our prosthetics are designed to promote complete healing through the regeneration and regrowth of functional tissues,’ says Motta.

The project is also using silk to build 3D in-vitro models that can be used for testing drugs and cosmetic products, avoiding animal testing. In addition, researchers are carrying out a major in-depth analysis of the use of silk, as well as exploring how the techniques they develop could be standardised and repeatable.

Once the project results are ready, REMIX will make them available on an open platform for all researchers to use. They will then select the most promising results and aim to work with industrial companies to use these in commercial products.‘The vision is to establish a platform to speed up the development of products on the market at an affordable price,’ says Motta.

REMIX received funding from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme.

Project details

  • Project acronym: REMIX
  • Participants: Italy (Coordinator), Portugal, South Korea, Thailand, Mongolia
  • Project N°: 778078
  • Total costs: EUR 877 500
  • EU contribution: EUR 670 500
  • Duration: November 2017 to October 2021

See also More information about project: Remix


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This project has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [613680].

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