Page last updated at 11:52 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 12:52 UK

Spider silk helps to heal joints

Golden Orb Web Spider
The Golden Orb Web Spider gets its name from the golden colour of its silk

An Oxfordshire company is using the secrets of spiders' webs to help rebuild people's joints.

Orthox, near Didcot, has developed a silk biomaterial that can regenerate damaged cartilage and bone tissues.

The silk helps the body to heal defects in joints which would otherwise lead to a metal or plastic knee replacement.

The technology, which imitates the strength and resilience of spiders' silk, could save the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds.

Silk sponges

The company has been studying the silk produced by Golden Orb Web Spiders - poisonous spiders from Australia.

Each spider can produce about 20 metres of silk in one go, but that is not enough for large-scale medical uses.

Silk worms, which are more prolific spinners, are used instead.

The company turns liquid silk into silk sponges which can be used to replace damaged cartilage.

Knee replacements now cost the NHS more each year than total hip replacements, estimated at nearly £1 billion by 2010.

In the future, the company plans to develop further products for other serious orthopaedic problems, such as spinal disc repair and bone regeneration.

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