Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have managed to synthesise lung surfactant, a drug used in the care of preterm babies, by mimicking the production of spider silk. Animal studies reveal it to be just as effective as the biological drugs currently in clinical use. The study is published in Nature Communications.
Surfactant revolutionised the care of preterm babies by reducing the surface tension in their pulmonary alveoli and allowing them to be inflated at the moment of birth. Scientists at Karolinska Institutet developed Curosurf, the most globally widespread drug, in the 1970s and 1980s. The drug is produced by the isolation of proteins from pig lungs, a process that is expensive, complicated and potentially risky.
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and their colleagues from the University of Riga amongst other institutions have now developed a surfactant drug that can be produced much more simply and cheaply using spider protein.
By applying this method, the researchers have managed to produce a range of potential biological drugs using the part of the spider protein that ensures that the proteins remain soluble, namely the N-terminal domain.
The researchers also compared their synthetic lung surfactant with the biological analogue currently on the market and found it equally effective at reducing the surface tension in an animal model of neonate respiratory disorders.
The study was primarily financed by the Swedish Research Council and was performed in collaboration with the Italian pharmaceutical company Chiesi Farmaceutici.