How spider silk can help premature babies

Posted By News On May 23, 2017 - 12:21pm
How spider silk can help premature babies

A special lung wash (surfactant) used in the care of premature babies could be getting a boost from spider silk. Surfactants help preterm babies by reducing the surface tension in the ends of the respiratory tree (pulmonary alveoli) and allowing them to be inflated at the moment of birth. Curosurf, the most globally widespread drug, is produced by the isolation of proteins from pig lungs, a process that is expensive, complicated and potentially risky.

Researchers have discovered they can make it by mimicking the production of spider silk, and in animal tests it is just as effective as the biological drugs currently in clinical use. Rats are not little people, as the American Council on Science and Health famously noted, and that applies to studies about finding a beneficial effect as well as giving them cancer with every chemical out there, but since it could be easier and cheaper using spider silk protein it merits further study.

Photo: Lena Holm

“The manufacturing process is based on the method spiders use to keep their extremely easily aggregated proteins soluble for silk-spinning,” explains Professor Jan Johansson at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society. “We chose to produce lung surfactant protein C because it is probably the world’s most aggregation-inclined protein.”

By applying this method, the researchers have managed to produce a range of potential biological drugs using the part of the spider protein that ensures that the proteins remain soluble, namely the N-terminal domain.

“We had bacteria produce this part of the protein and then linked it to different protein drug candidates,” says docent Anna Rising at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society who co-led the study with Professor Johansson.

The researchers also compared their synthetic lung surfactant with the biological analogue currently on the market and found it equally effective at reducing the surface tension in an animal model of neonate respiratory disorders.

Citation: Nina Kronqvist, Médoune Sarr, Anton Lindqvist, Kerstin Nordling, Martins Otikovs, Luca Venturi, Barbara Pioselli, Pasi Purhonen, Michael Landreh, Henrik Biverstål, Zigmantas Toleikis, Lisa Sjöberg, Carol V. Robinson, Nicola Pelizzi, Hans Jörnvall, Hans Hebert, Kristaps Jaudzems, Tore Curstedt, Anna Rising & Jan Johansson,  'Efficient protein production inspired by how spiders make silk',   Nature Communications, online 23 May 2017