Silk is set to make a leap from dressing Indian brides to potentially growing replacement tissue for damaged hearts, keeping them healthy and evergreen.
Max Planck scientists in Germany have succeeded in loading cardiac muscle cells onto a 3D scaffold (framework), created using the Tasar silk produced by a tropical silkworm.
Of all the body's organs, the human heart is probably the one most primed for performance and efficiency. Damaged heart muscle cannot be regenerated. Scar tissue grows in place of the damaged muscle cells.
In their attempt to develop a treatment for the repair of cardiac tissue, scientists are pursuing the aim of growing replacement tissue in the lab, according to a Max Planck statement.
"Whether natural or artificial in origin, all of the tested fibres had serious disadvantages," says Felix Engel, who led the research at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research, Germany.
"They were either too brittle, were attacked by the immune system or did not enable the heart muscle cells to adhere correctly to the fibres."
Chinmoy Patra, who works in Engel's lab, said the fibre produced by the tasar silkworm displays several advantages over the other substances tested.
"The surface (of the fibre) has protein structures that facilitate the adhesion of heart muscle cells. It's also coarser than other silk fibres." This is the reason why the muscle cells grow well on it and can form a 3D tissue structure.
"The communication between the cells was intact and they beat synchronously over a period of 20 days, just like real heart muscle," says Engel.
However, clinical application of the fibre is yet far away as the findings have to be extrapolated on human cardiac cells, said Engel.