The team of researchers, based in Melbourne and Perth, have developed a device that incorporated silk into the “Clear Drum” ear implant, a device similar in appearance to a contact lens which a recipient’s cells can grow on, Xinhua news agency reported.
Marcus Atlas, the leader of the research team, said that flexibility made silk ideal for the device.
“We felt that it had shown previously to support cell growth and proliferation, and the ability to be able to change into various forms was a really appealing thing for us, particularly when we started to mix it with other products to create different mechanical and acoustic criteria,” Atlas told the media on Monday.
“The skin cells are there – it’s getting them to come across and heal, so it’s sort of a scaffold.”
By removing sericin, the adhesive agent in silk, researchers were able to heat proteins into a liquid from which they created the device.
The device, for which clinical trials are being planned, is surgically placed under a damaged eardrum to provide a platform on which new tissue can grow.
For smaller perforations in the drum, the device dissolves over time after the hole is repaired but for larger-scale damage the device remains in place indefinitely.
The Welcome Trust, a charity based in Britain, has provided $2.9 million to fund a clinical trial of the device.