This Scary Spider Could Save Your Life!

In current times, more and more people are suffering from cardiac insufficiency. Since cardiac tissue is unable to be revived (once its dead), researchers have been struggling to figure out how to create a structure similar to cardiac tissue, that can mimic the tissue’s function. A recent discovery made by researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Iniversitat Erlangen-Nurnberg (FAU) an their colleagues from the University of Bayreuth, led to idea of using spider silk to recreate dead cardiac tissue. Their results are published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

What is so important about spider silk?

Fibroin, the protein that gives spider silk its mechanical stability and special structure, could be the missing piece to creating artificial cardiac tissue. The indian silk worm was observed first by  Dr. Felix Engel of the Department of Nephropathology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, its specific properties make it eligible to help create cardiac tissue. In addition to indian silk worm, Prof. Dr. Thomas Scheibel, holder of the Chair for Biomaterials at the University of Bayreuth, discovered that garden spiders’ silk along with the help of E. coli, can produce the proper protein needed.

Do they really work?

These silks were put to the test, when Jana Petzold, of the Erlangen team headed by Prof. Engel and Tamara Aigner from Prof. Scheibel’s Bayreuth, placed a thing layer of the silk protein—(eADF4(κ16) onto a film, since the silk protein is positively charged, the idea is that it would then adhere or stick to anything negatively charged. Cardiac functionality was their main interest during the experiment; they compared plain cardiac tissue applied to a film, to spiders silk applied to a film of fibronectin. They did not find any functional differences between the two! Furthermore, the cells cultured on a film of eADF4(κ16) grew in response to factors responsible for hypertrophy (enlargement of cardiac cells), this discovery reinforces the similarities and potential for spider silk proteins to help reverse the effects of cardiac damage.

The Future:

Although the idea of using spider silk was just discovered, do you think scientists will pursue this theory? If so, how long will it take? I was particularly intrigued while reading this article because spider silk seems like the most random match for something so intricate and complex. Scientists are now realizing why this silk is important. Another use for spider silk is in antibiotics. Who knows, there could be many more uses for spider silk to soon be discovered!