Research Highlight

Silk-based scaffolds for screening anticancer drugs

doi:10.1038/nindia.2021.15 Published online 1 February 2021

Silk-protein-based three-dimensional scaffolds have shown promise for mimicking the microenvironment for a tumour, and for screening anticancer drugs1.

Such scaffolds may even aid in novel drug discovery, says a team from the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati.  

To find a better alternative to existing models, which fail to mimic native tumours, the IIT scientists prepared the silk scaffolds by mixing silk fibroin proteins isolated from the cocoons and glands of two different silk worms.  

The team, led by Biman B. Mandal, tested the efficiency of the silk scaffolds in recreating a tumour microenvironment by growing breast and liver cancer cells, and in screening the anticancer drugs doxorubicin and paclitaxel.

The silk scaffolds leached no proteins, and showed stability for up to 28 days. During this period, the cancer cells grew on these scaffolds, expressing specific proteins and enzymes that usually help cancer cells to form colonies and invade new tissues, eventually giving rise to metastasis in native tumours. The cancer cells on the silk scaffolds also exhibited higher metabolic activities than the ones on the conventional cell-culture systems up to two weeks. 

The cancer cells, when grown on the silk scaffolds for a longer duration, displayed drug-resistant features usually found in native solid tumors.

The researchers’ next aim is to closely mimic the native tumours by inducing the growth of blood vessels and developing a single cell culture system that can support the growth of two different types of cancer cells, says Mandal.


1. Arora, D. et al. Bioactive three-dimensional silk composite in vitro tumoroid model for high throughput screening of anticancer drugs. J. Colloid. Interface. Sci. 589, 438-452 (2021)