Research Highlight

Silk protein helps make bioartificial liver

doi:10.1038/nindia.2018.3 Published online 12 January 2018

Researchers have synthesised a silk-protein-based scaffold that can help regenerate liver cells. These artificially grown liver cells are capable of mimicking the functions and growth of normal liver cells, making the scaffold potentially useful for replacing damaged liver tissues in patients with fatal liver diseases.

Drug-induced toxic effects, viral infections and alcohol abuse cause liver damage, resulting in end-stage liver diseases such as cirrhosis. Liver transplantation is a way out, but it is expensive and the recipient’s immune system often rejects donors’ liver cells.

In search of a safe therapy for deadly liver diseases, scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, led by Biman Mandal, invented a silk-protein-based porous scaffold. They then tested its potential to regenerate liver cells in cell culture and rats.

In studies with specific human and rat liver cells, the scaffold allowed the liver cells to attach and grow, eventually forming liver cell clusters. The porous scaffold efficiently nourished the cells by supplying nutrients and oxygen. The growing liver cells on the scaffold exhibited liver-cell-specific functions such as albumin and urea syntheses, and the ability to carry out the detoxification process for over three weeks.

When implanted in rats, the scaffolds also helped grow liver cells. The rats didn’t reject the liver-cell-growing scaffolds, showing that they don’t adversely affect a host’s immune system.

‘The scaffold could potentially be used for developing bioartificial liver and drug-screening studies,” says Mandal.


1. Janani, G. et al. Functional hepatocyte clusters on bioactive blend silk matrices towards generating bioartificial liver constructs. Acta. Biomaterialia. (2018) doi:10.1016/j.actbio.2017.11.053