Silky Science

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Zoe Zhao

In late Fe­bru­ary 2017, 35-year-old Wang Lin, a pro­fes­sor at Wuhan Union Hospi­tal af­fil­i­ated with Tongji Med­i­cal Col­lege at the Huazhong Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy, was hon­ored with an UNESCO award for women in science for her con­tri­bu­tions to the us­age of sericin, de­rived from silk, on tis­sue engi­neer­ing and re­gen­er­a­tive medicine.

The jury al­ter­nates be­tween hon­or­ing those work­ing in life and ma­te­rial sciences, and se­lects pro­fes­sion­als who have con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to sci­en­tific progress.

“In sim­ple terms, our study shows the suit­abil­ity of sericin, a ma­jor com­po­nent of silk, in bio­med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions such as ner­vous and soft tis­sue and skin re­gen­er­a­tion,” ex­plains Wang. “We also com­bined sericin with other bi­o­log­i­cal ma­te­ri­als and ex­panded its ap­pli­ca­tions into more fields.”

“Sci­en­tific re­search it­self is an ar­du­ous path. Peo­ple like me who have cho­sen this road should keep go­ing,” says Wang. “The road ahead is long. We must have strong willpower and re­silience to march ahead.” The Tis­sue Engi­neer­ing and Re­gen­er­a­tive Medicine In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety, ded­i­cated to world­wide ad­vance­ment of both the science and tech­nol­ogy of tis­sue engi­neer­ing and re­gen­er­a­tive medicine, be­lieves that Wang has con­ducted in­flu­en­tial re­search in the silk med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion field.

Mag­i­cal Sericin

Sericin, a pro­tein cre­ated by silk­worms dur­ing the pro­duc­tion of silk as well as an im­por­tant com­po­nent of silk it­self, has a long his­tory in China. Arche­o­log­i­cal records in­di­cate that silk was cul­ti­vated in China as early as the Yang­shao pe­riod (5000–3000 B.C.). In the sim­plest terms, sericin is the gum coat­ing the fibers that causes them to stick to each other.

Through­out his­tory, sericin was usu­ally dis­carded, un­like the highly soughtafter silk that was trans­ported around the world. To­day in China alone, an es­ti­mated 35,000 tons of sericin is dis­carded ev­ery year, a vol­ume that poses a large threat to the en­vi­ron­ment, be­cause sericin de­com­po­si­tion re­quires so much oxy­gen.

Although some sci­en­tists had ex­plored the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing sericin as a green ma­te­rial, its value in tis­sue engi­neer­ing and po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tion in re­gen­er­a­tive medicine has only been dis­cov­ered in re­cent years. Wang Lin and her team have been fo­cus­ing on the us­age of sericin in bio­med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions. Most re­cently, her team used sericin in restora­tive treat­ment like re­pair­ing dam­aged pe­riph­eral nerves.

Wang en­tered sericin re­search by chance. Sev­eral years ago, dur­ing dis­cus­sions with her stu­dents, Wang re­al­ized that not much re­search on the med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion of sericin had been done any­where in the world. “Fi­broin, the other ma­jor pro­tein

com­po­nent in silk, is widely used in med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions,” Wang re­veals. “We think sericin may also be a trea­sure trove for medicine.”

It was pre­vi­ously thought that sericin would be re­jected by the im­mune sys­tem. By con­duct­ing new ex­per­i­ments, Wang and her team over­turned this the­ory. They fur­ther dis­cov­ered that sericin has a unique pho­to­lu­mi­nes­cent fea­ture and a gel gen­er­a­tion prop­erty as well as nat­u­ral cell ad­he­sion, all char­ac­ter­is­tics that make it an ideal bi­o­log­i­cal ma­te­rial for tis­sue re­pair and re­gen­er­a­tion.

Af­ter sev­eral years of sys­tem­atic re­search, Wang and her team suc­cess­fully ex­tracted pure sericin with a well-pre­served pro­tein pro­file from co­coons. With min­i­mally in­va­sive in­jec­tions, sericin can re­pair dam­aged nerves and is ex­pected to solve sev­eral med­i­cal chal­lenges. Wang and her team are still con­duct­ing ex­per­i­ments to­day, and re­search is ex­pected to reach clin­i­cal tri­als within ten years.

“80 Per­cent of Re­search Is Set­backs”

“Sci­en­tific re­search is never easy,” ad­mits Wang. “I am by no means smarter than other peo­ple. The way I man­aged to achieve these things is quite sim­ple: I just dive into my work and spend a lot of time on it.” Wang’s daily rou­tine work in­volves per­form­ing ex­per­i­ments, read­ing re­search re­ports, writ­ing es­says and par­tic­i­pat­ing in group dis­cus­sions. “Even to­day, I usu­ally get home from the lab­o­ra­tory at 11:00 p.m. or mid­night,” says Wang. “On week­ends, I usu­ally go to a café with my lap­top, where I read re­ports in a com­par­a­tively re­lax­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

In Wang’s opin­ion, sci­en­tific re­search re­quires hours of con­cen­tra­tion and years of per­se­ver­ance and hard work. Since Wang and her team be­gan work­ing in this rela- tively new field, they have en­dured nu­mer­ous dif­fi­cul­ties and fail­ures. For ex­am­ple, when ex­tract­ing sericin from silk, both its pro­tein pro­file and bi­o­log­i­cal ac­tiv­ity must be well pre­served. Thus, Wang and her team must care­fully ad­just tem­per­a­tures, reagents and types of co­coons. Be­cause ex­tract­ing pure sericin in­volves many vari­ables, a change in a sin­gle con­di­tion can lead to more than 100 re-tests. “Some­times, we need to ad­just our ex­per­i­men­tal pro­gram con­stantly,” Wang sighs. “It is a process of trial, feed­back, and progress. Hon­estly, more than 80 per­cent of my time is spent on set­backs and fail­ures. But I sel­dom feel frus­trated be­cause ev­ery small step for­ward pro­vides plenty of ex­cite­ment.”

“Work with­out in­no­va­tion is use­less, and re­search with­out prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion is just not as valu­able,” Wang de­clares. She con­stantly re­minds her­self that any re­search re­sults must help pa­tients. To­day, she still spends a lot of time fol­low­ing the lat­est in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tific de­vel­op­ments on many sub­jects in­clud­ing physics, chem­istry, and ma­te­ri­als science, hop­ing for in­spi­ra­tion for her own work. “Time spent in re­search­ing varies from years to decades, and sci­en­tists work not only to im­prove to­day’s world, but also the fu­ture.”

Re­turn to China

Wang was born into a fam­ily of doc­tors in Hubei Prov­ince in 1982. When she was a teenager, she trav­eled to Ger­many to study while her fa­ther was work­ing on a doc­tor­ate there. “My fa­ther re­turned to China af­ter he com­pleted his stud­ies and was de­ter­mined to serve our coun­try, which in­flu­enced me a lot.”

In 2005, af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Wuhan Univer­sity, Wang went to the United States to work on her doc­tor­ate. She served as a re­searcher at Har­vard Univer­sity and a vis­it­ing scholar at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan. In 2011, Wang re­turned to China and founded the first Cen­ter of Re­gen­er­a­tive Medicine in cen­tral China in Wuhan Union Hospi­tal.

“The top for­eign labs in­deed of­fer higher pay and are bet­ter equipped than do­mes­tic ones,” Wang ad­mits. “But China now pro­vides strong fi­nan­cial and pol­icy sup­port for sci­en­tific re­search per­son­nel. The coun­try tremen­dously re­spects and trusts sci­en­tists, es­pe­cially young sci­en­tists. We have great con­fi­dence in the coun­try.”

“As China im­proved both the soft­ware and hard­ware for sci­en­tific re­search, I knew I had to re­turn and make my own con­tri­bu­tion to my home­land,” she adds.

May 3, 2017: Wang Lin in­tro­duces her team's re­search pa­per in Small, a peer-re­viewed, in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary, in­ter­na­tional and au­thor­i­ta­tive jour­nal. by Yu Jian/xin­hua

Sericin is a pro­tein cre­ated by silk­worms dur­ing the pro­duc­tion of silk, as well as an im­por­tant com­po­nent of silk it­self. How­ever, through­out his­tory, sericin was usu­ally dis­carded. IC

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.