Innovation That Matters

Spider web | Photo source Pixabay

Cancer researchers use spiders for inspiration

Health & Wellbeing

Researchers use synthetic spider silk as a delivery method for cancer-fighting drugs.

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One common tool for fighting cancer are vaccines that stimulate the body’s immune system to destroy tumour cells. In order to trigger the cancer fighting cells, called T-lymphocytes, to act, researchers use small pieces of protein called peptides. However, when peptides are injected directly into the body, they are broken down before they can reach their target. In order to prevent this from taking place, the peptide needs to be protected in some way once it has entered the body. Now, researchers at the universities of Geneva (UNIGE), Freiburg (UNIFR), Munich, and Bayreuth, and a German company AMSilk may have found a way.

The researchers used synthetic spider silk, which is lightweight and biocompatible. Additionally it does not break down quickly at body temperature. Peptides are inserted into the silk to form injectable micro-particles. The silk creates a protective layer around the peptides. This allows them to reach the lymph node intact, where T-lymphocytes are found. In tests, the team found that the use of the silk capsules led to an improved immune response. Researchers feel that, because of its heat-resistance, this technique could also be useful in transporting vaccines to areas where there is no reliable refrigeration.

According to the researchers, one limitation is in the size of the microparticle that can be encapsulated in the silk. While all peptides are small enough to be used with this technique, future studies may focus on determining if it is possible to use the technique with larger antigens, such as those used in standard vaccines against viral diseases. It is clear that more and more scientists are gaining inspiration from nature. At Springwise, we have seen this with an edible paint inspired by beetles and an airless tire inspired by coral. What plant or animal will inspire the next scientific innovation?




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