Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Silk nanofibres

Silk, one of the oldest known textile fibres, is actually an animal fibre spun by the silkworm while it constructs its cocoon. The availability of silk nanofibres introduces a new set of potential uses that were previously unattainable.
Silk nanofibres
The principal component of silk is the protein fibroin. The most extensively characterised silk is from the domesticated silkworm, Bombyx mori, the scientific name of the mulberry silk moth. Bombyx mori silk fibroin has excellent mechanical properties and it has been used as a biomedical suture material for a long time. This important material can be regenerated in useful forms such as liquid, fibre, powder, membrane, gel or porous matrix.

The porous matrix and film of silk fibroin have been used as scaffolds, in tissue engineering applications, for the fabrication of replacement tissue, due to its biocompatibility properties. Powdered silk has been extensively used in cosmetics, surface improving materials, health foods and industrial materials. However, the further development of silk fibroin powder is restricted by the current limitation in making finer particles of silk fibroin, less than 1mm in diameter. In addition, the mechanically powdered silk may not be desirable for biomedical purposes due to the rough and grainy surface of the fibre, which can cause possible abrasive damage to tissue.

Improving fibre processing technically solves these problems. A novel processing method was recently developed leading to globular silk nanoparticles about 35-125nm in diameter. The fine crystalline globules of silk protein are produced directly from regenerated liquid silk by using water miscible solvents.

The nanoparticles consist of eighteen kinds of amino acids and they present strong resistibility against UV radiation. The globular nanoparticles can be bioconjugated with drugs, enzymes or polypeptides, using physical or chemical methods, with potential uses in drug delivery systems. The silk nanoparticles can be produced commercially so as to be used in medical biomaterials, cosmetics, anti-UV skincare products, covering materials and so on.
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