New spider-silk ‘biogel’ has great medical potential
No wonder Spider-Man had superhuman health.
It’s a long-established part of Marvel lore that Spider-Man possesses not just the proportional strength of a spider but also the capability to heal from injuries and diseases that would unalive any mere human. And yet, for the longest time, he couldn’t even spin his own webbing. However, a recent innovation in spider silk by European scientists has amazing medical potential and could also explain Spider-Man’s superhuman healing factor as well as his inability to make spider silk.
In a paper published last August 15 in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) found that spider silk proteins could be turned into a gel inside a person’s body for medical purposes. This “biogel” takes advantage of the same molecular properties that allow spider silk to be soluble while inside the spider’s body yet strong when released as silk.
“We have previously shown that a specific part of the spider silk protein called the N-terminal domain is produced in large quantities and can keep other proteins soluble, and we can exploit this for medical applications,” said Anna Rising, research group leader at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at KI and professor at the Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Biochemistry at SLU, in a press release.
The team hopes that the spider-silk biogel could be further developed into an injectable solution that could be used to control the release of medicines into a patient’s body or fused with enzymes to facilitate the body’s own healing processes.
“In the slightly longer term, I think injectable gels can become very useful in regenerative medicine,” says the study’s first author Tina Arndt, PhD student in Anna Rising’s research group at KI. “We have a long way to go, but the fact that the protein solution quickly forms a gel at body temperature and that the spider silk has been shown to be well tolerated by the body is promising.”
It’s not farfetched to think that the reason why Spider-Man didn’t make his own webs is because his body was repurposing the spider silk to fix up all the aches and bruises he got from battling all those villains.