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Addition of pectin molecules strengthens silk biomaterials

Posted April 30, 2014
Addition of pectin molecules strengthens silk biomaterials
Figure 1: The addition of pectin to silk proteins produces a soft, tissue-like hydrogel (left) with a complex microstructure (right) that results in exceptional strength. Modified from Ref. 1 and licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. Credit: K. Numata et. al

The human body has limited ability to self-repair damage to cartilage or bone. Implantable ‘bioscaffold’ materials that can be seeded with cells can potentially be used to regenerate these critical tissues. One such biomaterial under consideration is silk hydrogel—a nontoxic, natural substance produced by combining silk proteins with water to form an aqueous gel. Keiji Numata from the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science and colleagues have now devised a way to reinforce silk-based bioscaffolds through the addition of pectin-based fibers.

Due to their high bound water content,   have been shown to accelerate the growth of human mesenchymal stem cell (hMSC) adhesion proteins. hMSCs can differentiate into bone and cartilage cells and are therefore ideal precursors for tissue regeneration strategies. Unfortunately, silk hydrogels often have insufficient mechanical strength for practical applications.

To boost the elasticity and mechanical strength of silk hydrogels, Numata and his colleagues turned to pectin, a polysaccharide found in plant cells that is widely used as a food thickening agent.

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