Spider-Man has had a rough summer. Recent news of his impending death and an overwrought, injury-prone musical have left the web-slinging community with a few black eyes. Yet like any great origin story, resurrection often rises out of the ashes. Case in point: recent news of spiders coming to the rescue of burn victims.
Hanna Wendt, a tissue engineer in the Department of Plastic, Hand and Reconstructive Surgery at Medical School Hannover in Germany, along with her colleagues, recently published a study that suggests spider silk may hold the key to creating artificial skin for burn victims and other patients requiring skin grafts.
Wendt says previous materials, like collagen, used to create artificial skin did not seem strong enough, so she and her team turned to a material 5 times stronger than Kevlar: spider dragline silk.
"Spider silks display excellent mechanical features that even rival man-made, high-tech fibers," the study explains.
The researchers essentially milked the silk glands of golden orb web spiders, spooling the silk fibers as they came out. Next, the dragline silk was woven onto a rectangular steel frame, 0.7 mm thick, resulting in an easy-to-handle meshwork frame that could be sterilized.
Wendt and her colleagues found that human skins cell types could flourish on these meshwork frames if they were properly nurtured with nutrients, warmth and air.
Depspite being impressed by how human cells responded to spider silk, Wendt thinks the use of synthetic fibers must be considered, especially since harvesting large amounts of spider silk is not practical.
"I think in the long term, for widespread daily clinical use, synthetic silk fibers providing the same mechanical — and cell culture — properties will be needed," Wendt told LiveScience.