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Posted: 11/3/2004 11:46:04 AM EST

Clemson researches healing power in spider silk

The Associated Press

CLEMSON - Clemson researchers hope that a spider's silk may provide a way of helping wounds heal more quickly.

They're interested in dragline silk - the lines spider hang from as they work. That strong silk is a lifeline for spiders as they begin spinning webs. Without its strength, spiders would be prone to plunging to the ground and breaking legs.

But the dragline silk also generates tiny amounts of electricity as the spider works.

Michael Ellison, a Clemson materials science professor specializing in polymer physics, and his research group hope to one day develop a way to replicate, or to mimic, those properties in advanced materials for use in wound dressings.

Research has shown that wounds heal faster when energized with low doses of electricity, Ellison said. The challenge is creating a practical means for doctors delivering electricity to the injury, he said.

Ellison's research involves the golden silk orbweaver, known as the banana spider. It gets its name from the goldlike shimmer of the silk in the spider's large web.

His research program is called Biomimetics Advanced Materials, or BAM. That's a name taken from Spiderman cartoons, Ellison said.

Biomimetics looks at naturally produced elements for their potential in other science applications.

For instance, architects have studied the large termite mounds in Africa for their ability to retain moderate year-round interior temperatures

The National Textiles Center, a consortium of several research universities, including Clemson, provides funding for Ellison's research.

Some of Ellison's spiders come from Charleston.

Ellison said the golden silk orbweavers will allow researchers to hold them. But their bite is about equal to a bee sting if agitated.

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