Australian researchers use silkworms to repair damaged eardrums

MELBOURNE, May 29 (Xinhua) — Silkworms could have the potential to repair damaged eardrums, a team of Australian researchers has found.
The team of researchers, based in Melbourne and Perth, have developed a device that incorporated silk into the “ClearDrum” ear implant, a device similar in appearance to a contact lens which a recipient’s cells can grow on.
Marcus Atlas, the leader of the research team, said that flexibility made silk ideal for the device.
“We felt that it had shown previously to support cell growth and proliferation, and the ability to be able to change into various forms was a really appealing thing for us, particularly when we started to mix it with other products to create different mechanical and acoustic criteria,” Atlas told Australian media on Monday.
“The skin cells are there – it’s getting them to come across and heal, so it’s sort of a scaffold.”
By removing sericin, the adhesive agent in silk, researchers were able to heat proteins into a liquid from which they created the device.
Sandra Bellekom, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ear Science Institute, said it was the first implant ever developed that successfully mimicked an eardrum.
“What we find is that the cells, which are called keratinocytes, they love to thrive and migrate and move across this scaffold which helps the healing process,” she said.
“That’s why we want to use silk because we know that it works.”
The device, for which clinical trials are being planned, is surgically placed under a damaged eardrum to provide a platform on which new tissue can grow.
For smaller perforations in the drum, the device dissolves over time after the hole is repaired but for larger-scale damage the device remains in place indefinitely.
The Wellcome Trust, a charity based in Britain, has provided 2.9 million U.S. dollars to fund a clinical trial of the device.
“We are looking at recruiting patients that have chronic middle ear disease, active and inactive, so patients who have more simple perforations – and also patients that have far more complex perforations with disease state present,” Bellekom said.