Decorated Spider Silk Slowly Releases Antibiotics

February
2017

A new synthetic version of spider silk could be used to deliver antibiotics or grow new tissues thanks to a method of functionalizing the silk with a metaphorical click.

Researchers at the Univ. of Nottingham used click chemistry to bind ligands to spider silk produced by genetically modified Escherichia coli bacteria. They used this method to attach fluorescent compounds for tagging, as well as antibiotics, to the silk threads. The antibiotic compound was attached to the silk with a covalent glycerol-ester linker, a bond that breaks down gradually over time, allowing for the slow release of the drug. Because bacteria lower the pH of their environment as they multiply, the acid-sensitive linker also makes the material responsive.

“The more bacteria you have, the more antibiotic you’ll get,” says Neil Thomas, a professor of medicinal and biological chemistry at the Univ. of Nottingham.

Thomas became interested in the idea of functionalizing spider silk after attending a talk by Sara Goodacre, the head of the SpiderLab at the Univ. of Nottingham. Goodacre studies spiders and their silk, which has long been under consideration for biomedical uses. Thomas was inspired to find ways to attach useful molecules to that silk.

The idea of using spider silk in medicine is not new, but a...

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