Genetically engineered fibers of the protein spidroin, which is the construction material for spider webs, has proven to be a perfect substrate for cultivating heart tissue cells, researchers at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have found. The scientists discuss their findings in an article that was published online on March 23, 2015 in PLOS ONE. The article is titled “Functional Analysis of the Engineered Cardiac Tissue Grown on Recombinant Spidroin Fiber Meshes.” The cultivation of organs and tissues from a patient's cells is the bleeding edge of medical research--regenerative methods can solve the problem of transplant rejection, for instance. However, it's quite a challenge to find a suitable frame, or substrate, to grow cells on. The material should be non-toxic and elastic and should not be rejected by the body or impede cell growth. A group of researchers led by Professor Konstantin Agladze, who heads the Laboratory of the Biophysics of Excitable Systems at MIPT, works on cardiac tissue engineering. The group has been cultivating fully functional cardiac tissues, able to contract and conduct excitation waves, from cells called cardiomyocytes. Previously, the group used synthetic polymeric nanofibers, but recently decided to assay another material--electrospunfibers of spidroin, the cobweb protein. Cobweb strands are incredibly lightand durable. They're five times stronger than steel, twice more elastic than nylon, and are capable of stretching a third of their length. The structure of spidroin molecules that make up cobweb drag lines is similar to that of the silk protein, fibroin, but is much more durable. Researchers would normally use artificial spidroin fiber matrices as a substrate to grow implants like bones, tendons, and cartilages, as well as dressings.
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