Regenerated Silk Fibroin Biomaterials in Nerve Repair
Silk is currently a biomaterial of particular interest due to its impressive mechanical strength combined with its biocompatibility and biodegradability. Regenerated silk fibroin solution made from boiled down silkworm cocoons can be both spun into fibers and also cast into hydrogels. Silk fibers are spun using a microfluidic device which mimics the spinneret of the silkworm. Hydrogels can be easily cast, as silk will spontaneously polymerize into a hydrogel over long time periods; however the gelation time is being improved using crosslinking and incubation. These two forms of silk biomaterials can be modified to create various alloys, including silk-fibronectin alloys and silk-elastin alloys, which may improve cell attachment and extendibility respectively. Once the appropriate alloys are found, they will be modified and functionalized into a nerve guidance conduit to encourage spinal cord repair. These conduits will be tested in vivo in mice with severed spinal cords and monitored for neural regeneration. As a result, these conduits could lead to a reversal of paralysis and have a lasting impact on the treatment of spinal cord injuries.