Silk can repair nerve damage, claim IIT-G researchers

26 June 2015

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati (IIT-G) have found curative powers for mulbery silk fibres that are popularly used for making fabrics. The silk fibre is found trigger regeneration of nerves and restore activity in limbs affected by traumatic injuries.

The researchers fabricated tube-like hollow structures out of silk fibres doped with gold nanoparticles (GNP) to form surgically-implantable nerve conduits to bridge gaps in nerves arising from injuries.

The snapped links in nerves can disrupt muscular function in limbs and other organs.

"We have developed a novel material as well as a new fabrication method for building nerve conduits. As the nerve regenerates, the muscles which it connects to also regain function, thereby resulting in complete neuro-muscular regeneration," said Utpal Bora, professor at IIT-G.

Since communications in nerves are transmitted via electrical signals, gold was found to the most reliable doping material for the repair and regeneration process.

"This conduit mimics nerve tissue and then guides regeneration of nerve cells that form the nerve tissues across the gap. Nerve conduits are generally employed to treat severe nerve injuries where a portion of the nerve is lost leading to a discontinuity or nerve gap," Bora said.

While autografts are the clinical gold standard for repairing large nerve gaps, they are not always readily available and may have side-effects when sourced from donors, said Bora.

But the silk-GNP conduits are totally compatible with the body (as evident from studies conducted on rats) since the use of the biomaterial in surgical procedures as sutures is a centuries-old established fact, he said.

Because the nanoparticles are produced by a 'green' method using fruit and herbal extracts, this also addresses concerns of potential health and environmental hazards arising out of their application.

"It would be affordable and easily available as one nine-yard silk saree can yield at least 1,000 of such conduits. Eventually, the body will replace the structure with its own collagen without any harm," Bora said, adding the group has applied for an Indian patent for the innovation. The research appears online in the journal Biomaterials.

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