Silk is one of the most amazing natural fibers in the world. And although we all know its uses in fashion and in the production of our soft and exclusive silk scarves, did you know that this thread made naturally by silkworms is also used in other fields such as medicine and pharmacology?
Silk uses in medicine
As we were saying, the properties of silk are not only exploited by the fashion industry, which allows us to enjoy unique haute couture garments of exceptional quality, such as silk scarves and scarves, silk robes, silk underwear or silk dresses.
These soft, strong, absorbent and flexible yarns are used for their excellent properties in tissue repair and pharmacological applications.
This is nothing new, though. Silk threads from silkworms have been used for decades as a biomaterial for suturing wounds. For example, a century ago, its advantages over catgut were noted, as it is more biocompatible and causes fewer infections.
Although there are indications of the use of silk thread in earlier times. Trotula, gynecologist of Salerno, comments on the use of sutures with silk thread in interventions of the perineum in her book Cura de las enfermedades de la mujer, antes, durante, y después del parto (Cure of women’s diseases, before, during, and after childbirth), published around 1050.
Silk thread for suturing
Today, bio-engineers are designing enzymes and semiconductors into the natural protein fibers spun by silkworms. The fine strands made by these worms are subjected to thermal processes, modified by tensile or chemical treatments in acidic and other forms, in order to create new materials with remarkable properties.
Silk thread is also used in surgery for sutures, especially for its strength and compatibility with human tissues, as it is not rejected by the immune system.
Thanks to this biocompatibility, interesting sensors are also being designed. Electronic and photonic materials are being made by modeling metals or thin films on silk surfaces.
It is believed that in the future these films could be used to treat epileptic or spinal cord injuries. It is also envisaged that the implanted sensors will allow electronic monitoring of nutrients, drug doses, cell contents in blood and other tissues.
Another field being worked on is genetics. In 2010, silkworms were genetically modified to produce spider silk. With the increased tensile strength of these fibers, silk could be used to produce artificial tendons or bulletproof vests.
In the not remote future, silk threads will also play a major role in tissue and organ implants.
Medical properties of silk
Silk thread is made up of proteins, which give it exceptional mechanical properties. Its high strength and deformability allow it to absorb an enormous amount of energy before breaking.
For all these reasons, silk is a tough, biodegradable biomaterial that is perfect for use in tissue engineering. Among other things, the uses of silk in medicine:
- Facilitate cell adhesion.
- Stimulate their growth and allow differentiation.
This natural, protein-based polymer has an amazing combination of strength and deformability that far exceeds the mechanical performance of man-made fibers.
The strands of silk yarns consist of two fibroin filaments (fibrous protein rich in alanine and glycine), coated by a sericin layer (amorphous protein rich in serine).
As producers of silk scarves, we are excited to learn a little more about the natural fiber with which we make our colorful silk scarves and foulards, which by the way, also have interesting peculiarities and properties, which we already told you about in this other post about the differences between natural and synthetic silk.