Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology researchers have revealed that spider silk may help grow new human hearts in the future.
MIPT researchers found that genetically engineered fibers of the protein spidroin, which was the construction material for spider webs, has proven to be a perfect substrate for cultivating heart tissue cells.
A group of researchers led by Professor Konstantin Agladze, who heads the Laboratory of the Biophysics of Excitable Systems at MIPT has been cultivating fully functional cardiac tissues, able to contract and conduct excitation waves, from cells called cardiomyocytes.
Cobweb strands are incredibly light and 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 was similar to that of the silk protein, fibroin, but was 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. Professor Agladze's team decided to find out whether a spidroin substrate derived from genetically modified yeast cells could serve to grow cardiac cells.
For this purpose, they seeded isolated neonatal rat cardiomyocytes on fiber matrices. During the experiment, the researchers monitored the growth of the cells and tested their contractibility and the ability to conduct electric impulses, which are the main features of normal cardiac tissue.
The monitoring, carried out with the help of a microscope and fluorescent markers, showed that within three to five days a layer of cells formed on the substrate that were able to contract synchronously and conduct electrical impulses just like the tissue of a living heart would.
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.