June 18, 2010

2 Min Read
Silk Shows Promise for Implantable Biochips

Silk from silkworms (above) could serve as the foundation of future biochips for inexpensive and fast test results.

When many people think of the properties of silk, smoothness comes to mind, thanks to the common phrase 'silky smooth.' But a rash of recent medtech research projects are trying to capitalize on silk's natural strength and biocompatibility rather than its texture. The latest in a line of silk-related medical technology breakthroughs centers on the use of silk as the basis for a biochip that promotes point-of-care diagnostics.

Working with researchers at Tufts University (Medford, MA), Peter Domachuk, a physicist at The University of Sydney (Australia), has investigated silk and fibroin, the protein responsible for the material's strength. The group determined that by purifying fibroin, it forms a clear material on which minuscule drops of thousands of biochemical compounds can be displayed in various patterns.

"The particularly interesting thing about silk is that the biochemical compounds it holds retain their activity," Domachuk says. "This biochemical activity enables extra sensitivity for monitoring and detecting medical conditions. And fibroin is transparent and can be formed into structures to control light, which can be then used as a sensitive probe for improved medical testing." Silk's surface can also be etched with nanometer precision while embedded proteins function normally, Domachuk told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Medical testing can be performed, Domachuk speculates, by using the silk to create tiny testing platforms in the form of implantable biochips. He estimated that a prototype could be achieved in roughly four years.

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