spider silk

Spinning a Web of Research

spider silk
Amanda Brooks’ research involves genetically engineering spider silk to deliver antibiotics.

The future of biomedical research is dynamic, continually changing with new developments always being made. A particularly recent advancement by Amanda Brooks, an assistant professor at North Dakota State’s School of Pharmacy, involves spider silk and antibiotics.

Brooks’s field of research comprises of genetically engineering spider silk to deliver antibiotics to infections inside the body. More specifically, this involves engineering the spider silk to contain a bubble to transport any kind of drug. That bubble will only burst if it comes into contact with an infection.

In turn, part of Brooks research is to make a more efficient process of transporting medication throughout the bloodstream while also reducing bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics.

“I’ve engineered the silk in such a way that a bubble only bursts if it sees an infection,” Brooks said. “Otherwise, it just goes through your body, and your body doesn’t react to it.”

Brooks, who has a Ph. D. in molecular biology, has been working with spider silk for over a decade.

She began experimenting with it when she was a graduate student. Brooks was tasked with genetically engineering the silk to give it different mechanical properties, making it stronger and improving the elasticity. That started Brooks down the path of all the possibilities and problems that had the potential to be solved through the use of spider silk.

Now, Brooks focuses her work with spider silk on controlled drug delivery, specifically in bone. One particular challenge involved how to treat veterans coming back home with severe, deep bone infections caused by traumatic amputations.

Bone infections are difficult to treat with typical antibiotics because they can’t penetrate into the bone very well. This brought Brooks to apply her research with spider silk to the task at hand.

“It kind of took me back to how can I engineer spider silk to deliver that antibiotic better,” Brooks details. “So we engineered it to be a smart biomaterial, meaning that it responds to its environment. In the presence of an infection, the bubble bursts and delivers the antibiotic.

“And if it doesn’t see the infection, it doesn’t burst.”

One of the most prominent problems Brooks is working on is how to reduce the rate at which bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics. Resistance against medication among bacteria can transmit between other bacteria of different species.

Brooks’ silk bubble would only release the medication where it is needed. Other bacteria would not be exposed to the medication, eliminating the probability of promoting bacteria resistance.

The idea is all set to work in concept but testing still needs to be done before it is approved for human use. Brooks and her researchers have two years to figure out how successful their genetically engineered spider silk will be.

“This is a pretty new concept. We are just starting to gain some traction on it,” Brooks said of the future in spider silk research.”No one has engineered it in the way that we are proposing to engineer it. So it’s brand new and I think that there is really good evidence this is going to work.”

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