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Silky Secrets to Make Bones

Date: 2018-01-03 13:41:20.0
Author: Jon Evans

A study found that genes could be activated in human stem cells that initiate biomineralization, a key step in bone formation. Scientists achieved these results with engineered silk derived from the dragline of golden orb weaver spider webs, which they combined with silica. The study appeared September 2017 in the journal Advanced Functional Materials and has been the result of the combined effort from three institutions: Tufts University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nottingham Trent University.

Study authors used the supercomputers Stampede1 at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) and Comet at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California San Diego through an allocation from XSEDE, the eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, funded by the National Science Foundation. The supercomputers helped scientists model how the cell membrane protein receptor called integrin folds and activates the intracellular pathways that lead to bone formation. The research will help larger efforts to cure bone growth diseases such as osteoporosis or calcific aortic valve disease.

"This work demonstrates a direct link between silk-silica-based biomaterials and intracellular pathways leading to osteogenesis," said study co-author Zaira Martín-Moldes, a post-doctoral scholar at the Kaplan Lab at Tufts University. She researches the development of new biomaterials based on silk. "The hybrid material promoted the differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells, the progenitor cells from the bone marrow, to osteoblasts as an indicator of osteogenesis, or bone-like tissue formation," Martín-Moldes said.

"Silk has been shown to be a suitable scaffold for tissue regeneration, due to its outstanding mechanical properties," Martín-Moldes explained. It's biodegradable. It's biocompatible. And it's fine-tunable through bioengineering modifications. The experimental team at Tufts University modified the genetic sequence of silk from golden orb weaver spiders (Nephila clavipes) and fused the silica-promoting peptide R5 derived from a gene of the diatom Cylindrotheca fusiformis silaffin.

The bone formation study targeted biomineralization, a critical process in materials biology. "We would love to generate a model that helps us predict and modulate these responses both in terms of preventing the mineralization and also to promote it," Martín-Moldes said.

About Texas Advanced Computing Center

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