From Africa's spiders to stem cells

Published 2012-08-31 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:33

[PRESS INVITATION 31 August 2012] Artificial spider silk can prove to be an important material in the treatment of disease. A symposium at Karolinska Institutet covers several aspects of producing new materials and using them for regenerative medicine.

Reporters are welcome to attend the mini-symposium "Harnessing Nature's high performance materials for regenerative medicine" and interview the scientists.

  • Date and time: Friday 7 September, 12 pm - 6 pm
  • Venue: Nobel forum, Nobels väg 1, Karolinska Institutet, Solna

There are 35,000 species of spider and many of them spin different kinds of silk. One of the events at the symposium will be a lecture on the entire repertoire of spiders in South Africa.

"Spider silk has fascinating properties," says Professor Jan Johansson at Karolinska Institutet and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). "The material is very strong even though it is thin and light. No artificial material being produced today can match it."

Spider silk has also proved to have properties useful in medicine, where it can facilitate the healing of wounds and encourage neuronal growth. But it is hard to use natural spider silk since its production cannot be controlled. So using African spiders as their model, Professor Johansson and his team have managed to produce an artificial silk.

The symposium will also discuss the production and handling of this and other artificial protein-based biomaterials. The ability to cultivate stem cells using these materials is very promising as they could be used in the treatment of diabetes or spinal injury, or for other conditions in which replacement tissue is needed.

Professor May Griffith of Linköping University, for instance, has made considerable progress replacing corneal tissue with an artificial material produced by bacteria. She will be taking part in the symposium, along with Dr Paolo Macchiarini of Karolinska Institutet, who pioneered the world's first transplant of an artificial trachea and who will be sharing his views of using new materials in healthcare.

Dr Sarah Heilshorn from Stanford University, USA, will also be talking about the ability to control cell cultivations so that they form a tailor-made material intended for a particular part of the body.

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