I have always been interested in animals and medicine, so for me it was a natural choice to study Veterinary Medicine at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).
After working as a veterinarian for a few years, I decided to get a PhD and joined an EU project, which aimed at producing artificial spider silk for medical applications. The project started with me going on an “adventure trip” to South Africa to collect 100 spiders from the wild. Since then, I have been captivated by this fascinating and impressive material and the spiders that produce it.
In 2007 I received my PhD, and soon after we started the company Spiber Technologies AB to commercialize our research findings. I was CEO 2008 to 2012. In 2011, I received a position as Assistant Professor (forskarassistent) at Karolinska Institutet, where I still work part time. Since 2012, I have been Senior Lecturer/Extension Specialist in Translational Veterinary Medicine at SLU.
Spider silk is one of the strongest materials there are, but so far it has been impossible to produce it artificially. We can now synthesize spider silk fibers that have the same strength as tendons, are bio-compatible and degrade as new tissues are formed in the body. Photo: Hans E Ericsson.
Research and area of expertise
My research area and area of expertise include translational medicine, regenerative medicine, molecular biotechnology, protein misfolding diseases and medical biochemistry.
We can artificially synthesize spider silk fibers that have the same strength as tendons, are bio-compatible and degrade as new tissue is formed in the body. The material has the potential to be used in a range of medical fields. We focus on regenerative medicine (tissue repair), mainly cultivation of stem cells, which is a relatively new area of research. The ultimate goal is to be able to replace or restore damaged organs and structures.
In another project we study a specific part of the spider silk protein (NT), which increases the solubility of the spider silk proteins when they are stored in the spider’s silk glands. The solubility enhancing properties of NT also apply when the NT is fused to other proteins of low solubility. Therefore, we use NT to produce drugs, which today are difficult or impossible to manufacture. Based on a technology in which we use NT we can produce large amounts of lung surfactant to cow costs, why we currently develop surfactants with enhanced properties. We are also looking at novel ways to deliver drugs to the alveoli by using sufactant as a drug carrier. Local treatment of several different lung conditions would be preferable compared to systemic administration of the drugs.
NT also accelerates the formation of spider silk fibers in the passage of the spider silk gland, a property that we study and use in innovative projects in biotechnology.
Amyloid is a specific type of protein aggregates that is linked to several severe and chronic diseases (eg AA-amyloidosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Diabetes mellitus). Recent evidence show that mice develop systemic amyloidosis much quicker if they are fed amyloid fibrils in the drinking water. We are investigating the prevalence of systemic amyloid disease in animals that go to human consumption.
My research has three main focuses:
1. To use spider silk to regenerate damaged tissue and to be able to culture stem cells under defined conditions.
2. to use Nature’s own solubility increasing domain (NT) to develop poorly soluble proteins (drugs).
3. Determine the prevalence of systemic amyloid disease in food-producing animals.
- Can spider silk be used as a 3D matrix when culturing adult and embryonic stem cells?
- Can artificially produced spider silk be used as implants to replace damaged tissues and organs?
- Can the spider silk proteins’ N-terminal domain be used as a general solubility enhancing domain for the production of proteins with low solubility?
- Can we use our surfactant for treatment of respiratory distress syndrome and drug delivery applications?
- What is the prevalence of systemic amyloid disease in Swedish food-producing animals? Does consumption of amyloid fibrils from these animals represent a potential risk for humans?
My research colleagues
I share my time between the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Karolinska Institutet (KI).
SLU: Marlene Andersson (research student), Jan Johansson (Professor)
KI: Kertsin Nordling (technician), Nina Kronkvist (postdoc), Oihana Burgos (PhD student), Siqin Wu (Researcher), Jan Johansson (Professor)
Spider silk has long been used in folk medicine. I aim to use spider silk in the treatment of diseases and injuries, for which there is no or poor treatment options available due to the lack of suitable materials. I also work to facilitate production of protein-based drugs together with a pharmaceutical company.
By close collaborations with national and international partners in industry and at universities, my research will benefit society at large. Karolinska Institutet, KI (Sweden), Rockefeller University (USA) and Donghua University (China) are among my collaborating partners.
Through the establishment of Spiber Awards, I also seek to strengthen long-term collaborations between SLU, KI, Rockefeller University and Donghua University.
Our research has been on public display at exhibitions at Skansen Aquarium (Skansen-Akvariet), Sweden, the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, and Paris Natural History Museum, 2011-2012.
I teach for the Veterinary Medicine Program at SLU, and the course ”Current research in Alzheimer’s disease, protein misfolding and functional protein assembly” at Tallinn University, Estonia.
Other professional activities
Founder and Senior Scientific Advisor, Spiber Technologies AB.
Assistant Professor (forskarassistent), Karolinska Institutet.
Member of the Committee for “Spiber Awards”, that enables study trips to Rockefeller University, USA.
Member of the VH-faculty Nomination Committee
Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry, SLU
Research at the Division of Biochemistry, Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry
Cooperation and extension at SLU
Spiber Technologies AB
New Insights (SLU magazine, 2012): Spider silk for surgical sutures (page 41) and Knowledge benefiting society (page 37).
Rising A, Hjälm G, Engström W, Johansson J. N-terminal nonrepetitive domain common to dragline, flagelliform and cylindriform spider silk proteins. Biomacromolecules. 2006, 7:3120-3124.
Askarieh, G., Hedhammar, M., Nordling, K., Saenz, A., Casals, C., Rising A., Johansson J., Knight S.D. Self-assembly of spider silk proteins is controlled by a pH-sensitive relay. Nature. 2010, 465:236-239.
Lewicka, M., Hermanson, O., Rising, A. Recombinant spider silk matrices for neural stem cell cultures. Biomaterials, 2012. 33(31):7712-7717
Rising, A. Controlled assembly: A prerequisite for the use of recombinant spider silk in regenerative medicine? Acta Biomater. 2013. Oct 1. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2013.09.030
Kronqvist, N., Otikovs, M., Chmyrov, V., Chen, G., Andersson M., Nordling, K., Landreh, M., Sarr, M., Jörnvall, H, Wennmalm, S., Widengren, J., Meng, Q., Rising, A., Otzen, D., Knight, S. D., Jaudzems, K., Johansson, J. Sequential pH-driven dimerization and stabilization of the N-terminal domain enables rapid spider silk formation Nat Comm. 2014. DOI:10.1038/ncomms4254
Search out more publications