Spidrex sense

The science behind spiders’ silk could improve the treatment of knee injuries, following a £1.6m funding boost by The Wellcome Trust.

The investment will be used to fund the development of Orthox’s Spidrex regenerative meniscal (knee cartilage) system, which uses a protein found in silk to repair damaged cartilage and bone tissue.

Based on 10 years of research by Oxford University, Orthox’s absorbable implant takes over the function of the damaged tissue, removing the need for permanent plastic or metal prosthesis.

The company’s prototype targets the meniscus, a crescent-shaped cartilage pad located where the major bones of the leg connect. It works mainly as a stabilising tissue and is one of the most commonly injured parts of the knee, as well as the most difficult to repair.

Nick Skaer, chief executive of Orthox, said: ’Our device is essentially like a porous sponge designed to encourage the body’s own cells to grow into it and repair the tissue.

’We take commercially available silk and break it down into individual molecules. We then build that back up again into tissue scaffolds using a series of tricks we have learned about how spiders spin silk.

’The way spiders process their protein means that their web is exceptionally powerful and resilient compared with other silks. By using the same techniques, the implant takes on these properties and is therefore resilient to repetitive compressive forces.’

The system is in pre-clinical trials and is expected to be launched in the next three years. Orthox hopes to extend applications to include invertible disc and articular cartilage replacement.

Ellie Zolfagharifard