A staple of the textile industry for thousands of years, the larva of the silk moth Bombyx mori (pictured) has recently inspired a new breakthrough in biomedical engineering. Known as a silkworm, it spins a delicate cocoon of silk to protect itself during its transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. Researchers have replicated this extraordinary process on a microscopic scale to create silken ‘micrococoons’, which could help preserve and transport delicate molecules. Many antibodies, for example, are unsuitable for clinical use because they clump together at high concentrations, rendering them useless. Initial tests with antibodies directed against proteins thought to be involved in Parkinson’s disease suggest that encapsulating them in silk could solve this problem. A natural material, silk is already known to be safe for human use. Using it to store and deliver antibodies should extend the shelf-life of molecules we already use, and enable new treatments to be developed.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
- Image by the Natural Materials Group, Sheffield, UK
- Research from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Sheffield and the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, UK
- Image copyright held by the photographer
- Research published in Nature Communications, July 2017
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