Spider silk and human skin combined to make superstrong material

Synthetic spider silk has been blended with human skin to produce a material that is stronger than Kevlar, a material that is used in bulletproof vests.

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UTRECHT, Netherlands // A Dutch artist and a cellular biologist have blended synthetic spider silk with human skin to produce a superstrong material that can stop a rifle bullet shot at half its regular speed.

Abdoelwaheb El Ghalbzouri, the cell biologist, said spider silk is three times stronger than Kevlar, which is used in bulletproof vests worn by the military and others in conflict zones. Since bulletproof vests are made from 33 layers of Kevlar, using more layers of spider silk could prove more effective in stopping a bullet, he said.

He and Jalila Essaïdi, the artist, see more potential for the blended skin and silk when it comes to developing skin grafts for burn patients.

"This skin is much stronger and tougher than regular skin ... you can also make much larger pieces of skin" this way, the artist said. The layers of spider silk embedded in the skin allow the cultivation of larger sheets of tissue which literally outgrow their petri dishes, she added.

Some studies show that incorporating regular silk in burn wounds encourages faster healing and less scarring, she said, so now she wants to see whether incorporating spider silk in the treatment of burn wounds has similar results.

While human cells appear to adhere well to spider silk, more research is needed, Mr El Ghalbzouri said.

"Next to skin, spider silk could be a very good scaffold for bone regeneration, cartilage, tendons, ligaments," he said in an interview, while other applications for the silk alone include surgical stitches, thanks to its strength and elasticity, as well as parachutes and parachute cords.

* Reuters