We're all familiar with how people who have nasty bone fractures will often get steel plates and screws implanted to hold things together. But now researchers from Tufts University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, are experimenting with screws molded from material produced by silkworms to repair fractures in rats, and they have found that there are several advantages over traditional steel screws.
Silk is far more biocompatible than steel, so the body is more accepting of the additional hardware with a lower chance of developing infections during the healing process. The silk parts are also very strong and stand up well to body fluids and high temperatures during the healing process. But unlike steel, after several months, the silk screws will break down and get absorbed by the body.
The researchers also found that silk screws and plates have a little more give to them than steel hardware, so pain and follow up stress fractures are less likely to be a problem. Finally, Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Said Ibrahim said that they have plans to experiment with adding antibiotics to the silk during the molding stage, further reducing the chances of infection as the break heals.
The tests with rats have been very encouraging, so the next step is to try the silk parts on larger animals like sheep and pigs before moving ahead with human trials. One more hidden benefit for humans is that these silk medical devices won't set off metal detectors, so you won't need to explain your skiing accident to the TSA every time you fly. The silk parts also invisible to x-rays, making it easier for your doctor to see how well you're healing, without all of that steel hardware blocking the view.