A new technique has been developed that uses spider silk to make human skin, suitable for skin grafts. And the world trembles. Find out why spider webs offer the best possible material to use for a skin replacement.
Skin, though it is flimsy when compared to things like knives, or needles, or the sharp corners of a coffee table late at night as someone innocently wanders through the living room to get a glass of water, is actually pretty tough. It's also extremely flexible. The combination rules out many possible materials that might be used to replace it. In order for a skin graft to work, it has to be built up on a flexible material that's strong enough to support the growing skin cells.
Something that outperforms skin in strength is spider silk. The material is famously tougher, proportionally, than steel and has stopping power greater than Kevlar. Dr. Hanna Went, of the Medical School of Hannover, Germany, decided to try using it to make a powerful enough base for skin grafts. Her team 'milked' golden orb spiders to collect their web, and used the web to spin a mesh. The mesh was stretched on a steel frame, and sprayed with human skin cells.
The skin cells lived and thrived, all while being stuck to spiderwebs, which has to be a disturbing thought for many. Proper nutrients were added by the team of scientists, and after two weeks outer skin cells, like fibroblasts and keratinocytes were added to one side so that the skin resembled normal human skin, suitable for grafting. The only thing holding back the progress (or, to some, the horror), is the limited availability of spider silk. Either a way of producing it artificially has to be made, or skin grafts will have to go back to synthetic fibers.