Researchers at Tufts University School of Engineering have discovered that silkworm cocoons possess incredible refrigeration properties.
Tufts biomedical engineers, led by David L. Kaplan (pictured below), are seeking a solution to a serious obstacle: how to keep life-saving pharmaceuticals cold. Most vaccines, enzymes and antibodies and many antibiotics and other drugs require constant refrigeration from manufacture to delivery to maintain their effectiveness.
“Silk protein has a unique structure and chemistry that makes it strong, resistant to moisture, stable at extreme temperatures and biocompatible, all of which make it very useful for stabilizing antibiotics, vaccines and other drugs.” says Kaplan, who has been studying silk for two decades.
Measles is one of the leading killers of children worldwide. Without refrigeration, the MMR vaccine rapidly loses potency. But after six months of storage in freeze-dried silk films at body temperature (37 degrees C) and at 113 F (45 degrees C), all components of the vaccine retained approximately 85 percent of their initial potency. found that silk stabilization preserved the efficacy of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, as well as penicillin and tetracycline, at a wide range of temperatures (at least up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
Researchers have not only found a solution to "the cold chain", but also uncovered a way to provide refrigeration for months and possibly years at temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. by stabilizing them in a silk protein made from silkworm cocoons.
According to co-author and research assistant professor Bruce Panilaitis, the research team hasn’t found any pharmaceutical that they have been unable to stabilize. Panilaitis says the use of silk protein as an insulator could be a “universal storage and handling system.”
This is definitely a research team to keep your eye on. If a material derived from silkworm protein can effectively keep vaccines cool in sweltering temperatures, imagine what other everyday objects it can refrigerate. This material could conserve a lot of energy - in a natural way! It could be used in food or beverage packaging, athletic apparel, home insulation, the possibilities are endless...
Of course, if the technology is scaled up, careful consideration of the silkworm population will have to be taken.
What do you think, readers?