Every year, between 250,000 and 500,000 people around the world suffer spinal injuries. Some are minor and others are significant and can result in paralysis and other impairments. Finding innovative solutions is important, as they may provide relief from these effects, as well as from related pain and expense. Among the most promising recent discoveries is the use of a special sterilized silk that comes from silkworms.
According to researchers from the University of Aberdeen, silk from these particular instincts has a level of stiffness that makes it ideal for bridging tears and gaps in the spinal cord when it has been injured. Additionally, its material provides an excellent ground in which nerve cells are able to regenerate, both because of its chemical makeup and its texture. – other types of silk are too soft for those sells to grow across, while some are too stiff and could cause further damage. Making the material even more beneficial for this purpose is the fact that the silk generates no apparent chemical reaction from the immune system. This means that there is no inflammatory response which could slow or stop cells from generating, and as an organic product the silk eventually breaks down, leaving the nerve cells behind to form a bridge for the growth of additional nerve connections.
Speaking of the ongoing research, Dr. Wenlong Huang of the University of Aberdeen said, “Spinal injuries affect 250,000 to 500,000 people globally every year. It can have devastating effects for people who suffer them, including loss of motor and sensory function below the level of injury, and bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction. If we can work to find a solution, such as the use of AP silk, to improve their quality of life even slightly then it is beneficial. Intriguingly, AP silk may also have the potential to aid repair following brain injury. These are still early bench-based studies but they certainly seem to show that AP silk has fantastic properties, especially suitable for spinal repair, and we look forward to researching this further.”
One of the things that has been learned about silk is that its molecular arrangement changes based on the type of worm that generates it. Silk from Bombyx mori worms is used to create sutures, while it is silk from a species called Antheraea pernyi that has proven appropriate for the growth of spinal nerves. The researchers who have been involved in this work have created a company, Oxford Biomaterials, to further their inquiries, as well as to potentially sell the silk-based product which they are calling Spidrex. Because it provides such a high-potential grafting material it is also being considered for use in knee injuries in which blood vessels need to be regrown.