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On the roof of the University of Oxford sits a greenhouse full of golden orb spiders cared for by one of the world’s foremost experts on the arachnids. Professor Fritz Vollrath has been studying the remarkably strong and elastic silk these spiders use to make their webs. Professor Vollrath believes the spider silk has huge potential in medicine as it is ‘biocompatible’, meaning it allows the body’s own cells to grow through and integrate with the material. In a high tech lab, Vollrath’s research is being applied to create silk-based products that can replace damaged knee cartilage, hopefully reducing the need for knee joint replacements. Clinical trials for the cartilage substitute begin next year, and silk is also being considered for the repair of heart valves, severed nerves and spinal columns. Amandeep Bhangu joins Professor Fritz Vollrath in Oxford, England to see how silk could transform the world of surgery.
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