New silk tissue chip also has implant potential

An “organ on a chip” can be a useful tool to test drugs in vitro while simulating actual in vivo effects. For drug delivery, the chip can demonstrate the effectiveness of new methods.

A new tissue chip made from a silk gel forms a scaffold that matches a target tissue and gives researchers a window into biological processes. What’s more, the basis of the chip could someday be used as an implant to deliver drugs over time.

The silk gel chip, designed using funds from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), gets the best of both worlds: It can be used to develop and test treatments in the lab, and it is also biocompatible and degradable so it can act as an implant that will fully dissolve over time.

“We know that silk is biocompatible so you can use it even inside the body, and it can be programmed to dissolve over time safely,” said NIBIB’s Rosemarie Hunziker. “So this might even be an improved design that enables us to build little micro-tissues and make them implantable.”

Silk is a natural protein with flexible, hydrogel qualities. Researchers at Tufts University created the 3-D silk hydrogel with a network of channels to mimic different natural tissues.

“Silk is pretty unique in the ability to integrate everything into one material system,” Tufts scientist David Kaplan said. “Now we can optimize systems in vitro (in cell culture) and directly translate that in vivo (within an animal) to look at tissue regeneration. I don’t know of any other system with the versatility that can do all that.”

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