Repair damaged nerves and tissues with spider threads
Again and again, researchers report new findings on how substances from nature can be used in medicine. A study by scientists in Austria has now shown that spider silk could be used to repair damaged nerves and tissue.
Medicine from nature
In recent years, teams of scientists from various research institutions have reported new findings that demonstrate how natural substances can be used for medicine. For example, researchers from the United States published a study just a few days ago that showed that certain snail slime is suitable as a medical superglue. And scientists in Austria have now found that damaged nerves and tissues can be repaired with spider threads.
More tear-resistant than nylon and more elastic than steel
Experts reported years ago that spider silk can be used for medicine. Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna have now presented new findings.
According to a statement from the university, the golden wheel spider from Tanzania spins such strong nets that Tanzanian fishermen use them for fishing.
Their spider silk is more tear-resistant than nylon and four times more stretchable than steel and also heat-resistant up to 250 degrees Celsius, extremely waterproof and also has an antibacterial effect. These properties also make them interesting for biomedical research.
Initial studies by Christine Radtke, new professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the MedUni Vienna / AKH Vienna, have shown in the animal model that the threads have great potential to repair nerves and tissue.
Reconnect severed nerves
Currently there is a need in plastic and reconstructive surgery for long-term nerve injuries in the peripheral nervous system from a length of five centimeters - for example after a serious accident or after a tumor has been removed.
Until now, in addition to the limited nerve transplantation, doctors could only use artificial tubes (interponate) to reconnect severed nerves, which would help the nerve fibers to grow together again.
"But this only works well over short distances up to a maximum of four centimeters," explains Radtke.
Therefore, the doctor and her colleagues at the Hannover Medical School, from where the surgeon came to Vienna in October 2016, have developed a new microsurgical method in which veins are filled with spider silk as a longitudinal guide structure.
Natural product is totally broken down by the body
"It works practically like a rose grid," explains Radtke, who is driving research in Vienna forward.
“The nerve fibers use the silk fibers to grow along them to reach the opposite nerve end again. The silk offers good adhesion to the cells, supports cell movement and promotes cell division. "
With this method, distances of up to six centimeters could be overcome in the animal model in the case of nerve damage: the nerve fibers functionally grew together within nine months.
At the same time, the framework made of spider threads, which is a natural product, is totally broken down by the body. There is also no rejection reaction.
Other areas of application conceivable
According to the information, Radtke currently has 21 spiders - 50 should be. The spider thread is then milked mechanically - up to 200 meters of spider silk can be obtained in 15 minutes.
The animals are "milked" on average once a week. Nothing happens to the spider, it is later fed an extra ration of crickets (a kind of cricket). Several hundred meters of silk are needed to bridge a nerve damage of six centimeters.
In order to be able to use the spider silk in clinical studies on humans, certification as a medical device is currently being worked on.
After that, other areas of application are conceivable, according to the surgeon, for example in orthopedics for meniscus or ligament injuries, as a possible skin replacement for deep skin burns.
In the future, spider silk could possibly also be used for other neurological diseases in which cell transplants play a role. (ad)