FARGO-It wasn't a fondness for Charlotte's Web or a fascination with Spider-man comic books that attracted Amanda Brooks to spiders.
The assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at North Dakota State University began studying spider silk in hopes of applying its properties to biomedical research applications.
"That's why I'm a scientist, because I want to help people," Brooks told a crowd gathered for her 1 Million Cups presentation Wednesday, June 28, at The Stage at Island Park.
Brooks compared spiders spinning silk to playing with Legos.
"Spiders were the original Lego builders," she said. "It's through mixing and matching those Legos that they have created patterns to give their silk really, really strong properties and very elastic properties."
She and her husband, Ben Brooks, founded Brooks Biomimetics in 2014 with a goal of using her spider silk research in the marketplace.
Brooks shared several potential uses for spider silk proteins in her pitch.
In one, she described a "Lego" that can respond to bacteria that create infections like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
"That Lego, I combine with my spider silk and make a new pattern," she explained. "Then, I can make a bubble out of it. Inside that bubble, I'm going to put an antibiotic. And that antibiotic is only going to be released or that bubble burst if it sees that infection in your body."
Brooks shared much of her research on spider silk proteins with students during a recent discovery-based learning and multi-disciplinary class at NDSU. Afterward, Brooks said a group of students came forward to ask for her help and permission to launch their own business, Spinthesis, to concentrate on developing the protein into a fiber.
One real-world application they are studying is using the fiber to produce a compression bandage that is pressure- and temperature-sensitive.
"For example, if you're sitting or lying down and have lower limb swelling, you'd wrap that limb with a compression bandage," Brooks said. "Then, often when you stand up the traditional bandage is too tight or too loose."With the spider silk bandage we're trying to create, it would automatically adjust to that pressure we're trying to maintain."
She said the applications of spider silk are only limited by one's imagination.
Brooks said Spinthesis and Brooks Biomimetics have two major hurdles. The first is how to get enough spider silk proteins. Spiders, which she purchases from a spider wrangler in Florida, do not produce enough spider silk to be useful. Right now, they're studying the spiders in hopes of mimicking their process commercially.
Once they do, the second hurdle will be how to make those proteins into a fiber or into a bubble. The protein is now in a white powdery form.
While NDSU has been helpful in getting the project this far, Brooks said what they now need are angel investors.
"We need a capital investment that helps push things forward in terms of business development," she said.
They've already received several small grants, but their next grant application would require a $300,000 investment match.
"That's our big goal within the next year, but we're willing to take even small investments," she said.
WHAT: Brooks Biomimetics
CONTACT: (701) 428-1380