Spider Silk has the Potential to Improve Organoids for Drug Development

Famed for its almost supernatural strength, spider silk is now being put to use for the creation of organoids.

24.06.2019 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by Laura Geror on Unsplash
Photo by Laura Geror on Unsplash

Biolamina, a Stockholm-based organ company has teamed up with Spiber Technologies, a Stockholm recombinant spider silk startup to develop improved organoids that can be used for drug development.

An organoid is a miniaturized and simplified version of an organ produced in vitro (outside of the body i.e. in a petri dish) in three dimensions that shows realistic micro-anatomy. Their use in drug testing is becoming ever more popular for their ability to model human tissue in three dimensions (3D) — far more representative than 2D cell cultures.

Spider silk is an amazing biological substance that has incredible mechanical properties, ideal for the use of biomaterials. It is biocompatible, biodegradable, has high tensile strength, and great elasticity. 

It has already proven an incredible lightweight substance for the use of bullet-proof clothing, wear resistant clothing and products where extraordinary strength is required such as ropes, nets and parachutes. If the mass production of spider silk is ever figured out, it has the potential to replace the widely used synthetic fibre Kevlar.

Silk interacts with cells making it ideal for repairing organs and delivering drugs. Spiber’s technology can be used to make synthetic silk proteins that mimic those of silkworms and spiders. Spiber uses micro-sized silicon pillars to create nano-wires by placing a silk protein droplet on a hydro-phobic surface which is then dragged over the pillars leaving strands of silk — 1/1,00th the diameter of a human hair — in its trail.

Now Biolamina and Spiber are combining their expertise to create the superhero of cell cultures by using the power of spider silk. The silk plays a big role in supporting the 3D structure of the organoid acting as scaffolding and also allows nutrients to access the cells in the artificial organ much better.  

Researcher My Hedhammer, co-founder of Spiber and a professor of biotechnology at  KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm is a pioneer for the uses of spider silk in medicine. She says “silk proteins have a unique propensity to assemble their chains in an ingenious way so that a material with favourable properties is formed.”

BioLamina AB has been selling reagents (a substance or compound added to a system to cause a chemical reaction) for 10 years to make it easier for customers to grow cells. The major trend right now in primary cell culture is to try to make more complex tissue models by culturing 3D cells. “Through collaboration and a licensing agreement with Stockholm’s based Spiber Technologies AB, BioLamina can now offer a biorelevant way to grow cells in 3D,” states the merger’s press release.

“We are super excited about this new product! Everyone we have talked to about the product has said that this sounds much better than anything else on the market,” says Kristian Tryggvason, CEO of BioLamina.

Drug companies and biotechs are developing organoids from a wide range of cells to represent tissue and organs from all parts of the human body, including the brain, heart and also diseased tissues such as head and neck tumours.

For decades drug development has relied on animal testing, but with technologies like this and bioprinting, there is potential to reduce, if not eradicate this practice as organoids represent human tissue much better than the tissue of rats or mice.

Organoids are also the perfect drug testing tool for the age of personalized medicine that we are now entering as organoids can be created using a patient’s own stem cells.

BioLamina will launch the products at the international stem cell conference ISSCR in Los Angeles at the end of June. Soon after, the products will be available to customers worldwide.

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