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The Spider Silk Solution

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The Spider Silk Solution

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Nick Skaer is a modern day spiderman, spellbound by silk. Chief scientist and CEO of medical group Oxford Biomaterials, he believes Man has much to learn from the much-maligned and misunderstood arachnids.
 
“Spiders are the product of 400 million years of evolution and they really are incredible little bio-engineers,” he told us. “What we’ve been focusing on is trying to replicate the properties of spider silk in a repair material, a tissue scaffold, for cartilage and bone repair.”
 
Spider silk is incredibly strong, but spiders only produce it in tiny quantities, and they’re not the easiest animals to work with.
 
So Nick Skaer explains he had to find an alternative: “What we need for a commercial process is a large raw material supply, and silkworms provide us with that.
 
“So we break it down into the individual silk molecules, and that gives us a polymer, and this is very similar to what you would find if you opened up a spider or a silkworm.
 
“What we do is we process it as the spider would and we end up with extremely tough, resilient tissue scaffolds.”
 
The key ingredient is an enzyme added to the silk that aligns the molecules so that they appear just as they would in a spider.
 
The first product to come out of the team’s lab near Oxford in England, is a knee cartilage implant.
 
“And what the surgeon will do, is he will trim out the defect in the cartilage, he’ll cut our device to size and then place it into the defect,” says Nick. 
 
The implant was developed during an EU research project – and Nick Skaer says that collaboration has opened up further possibilities:
 
“We’ve found a fantastic stem cell company over in the Netherlands called Expand who we have been working with, and populating our scaffolds with their advanced stem cell therapies is something that could lead to even better tissue regenerative capability in these sorts of products.“ 
 
Clinical trials should start next year, and Nick Skaer is confident about his project’s future.
 
“Because it’s based on a biological process it’s quite simple, it’s quite straightforward and it’s quite cheap. We’re very close to having a product which is ready for implantation in humans now, so it’s not science fiction, it’s really close to being a reality,” he said.
 
 
For more information on Nick Skaer’s spider silk process visit these websites:
 
http://www.orthox.co.uk 
 
http://www.silkbone.org 
 
 
says that collaboration has opened up further possibilities:
 
“We’ve found a fantastic stem cell company over in the Netherlands called Expand who we have been working with, and populating our scaffolds with their advanced stem cell therapies is something that could lead to even better tissue regenerative capability in these sorts of products.“ 
 
Clinical trials should start next year, and Nick Skaer is confident about his project’s future.
 
“Because it’s based on a biological process it’s quite simple, it’s quite straightforward and it’s quite cheap. We’re very close to having a product which is ready for implantation in humans now, so it’s not science fiction, it’s really close to being a reality,” he said.