The Aussies Using Silkworms to Repair Eardrums

Researchers from Western Australia may have discovered a cure for painful burst eardrums.

Perth and Melbourne researchers have potentially discovered a way to repair damaged eardrums using a silk.

The device, “ClearDrum” is designed to grow a patient’s ear cells. Marcus Atlas a Perth surgeon and professor opted for silk to make the device as it was more flexible than other materials. He explains:

"We felt that it had shown previously to support cell growth and proliferation...and acoustic criteria, the skin cells are there- it’s getting them to come across and heal, so it’s sort of a scaffold.”

All the sericin, the material that makes the silk sticky, is removed leaving the protein, fibrion. The proteins are then heated till liquidation and mixed with materials glycerol and polyurethane creating the “scaffold” for the ClearDrum.

This will be the first implant that mirrors a human ear drum. The device encourages the cells or Keratinocytes to migrate and thrive across the silk scaffolding, assisting the healing process.  Which is why, according to Chief Executive of the Ear Science Institute Sandra Bellekom, silk was the chosen material as it was strong, flexible and transparent.

The middle ear space is a very noxious environment, particularly when there's disease present, there's a lot of pressure changes occurring, it's a very moist environment. So it's not the easiest place to create an implant that's going to be effective in the long term.

The implant will sit just below the eardrum and will dissolve over time. Larger and more complicated injuries will require the device to remain in place.

"We have extensively researched our technology over the past decade, and we've been able to produce 34 peer-reviewed journal articles which attest to the quality of our science. But the real truth of the matter is in translating that into human patients."

Image: The ClearDrum, source: The Ear Science Institute,

The creators of ClearDum are set to receive a grant of 4 million dollars from a UK-based charity called the Wellcome Trust.

"We are looking at recruiting patients that have chronic middle ear disease, active and inactive, so patients who have more simple perforations — and also patients that have far more complex perforations with disease state present," Ms Bellekom said.

The Ear Science Institute, a non-for-profit organisation worked on the project with Deakin University’s Future Fibres Hub.

"We saw that silk had this ability to become a really strong biological membrane that would support cell growth. And then we made contact with Deakin who had this really extensive experience in silk and silk fibroin and it grew from there, it grew from that relationship," Professor Atlas said.

ClearDum is just one example of world-first and innovative technology produced in Western Australia. This product has the potential to help millions suffering from burst eardrums all over the world.

Trialling in Australia will not commence until 2018.

Header: The Ear Science Institute 

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