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Human Yarn

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

When Textile Meets Biology

Human textile. This was the mysterious name of a research conducted last year at the University of Bordeaux/INSERM. (1) The team of biologists managed to create a new kind of yarn, developed from human cells. This fiber can then be turned into implants that would be much more compatible with the body than any other kind of material. Hence, it would solve the “foreign body reaction” issue - when the immune system rejects an implant.

Knitting "human yarn" (3)

Medical textiles are classically used to design implants, from sutures to vascular grafts or ligaments. They are engineered into two or three dimensional shapes through weaving, knitting or braiding. They are usually made of permanent synthetic materials, or of biodegradable materials. But both these options are imperfect : the first one often leads to a rejection, and the second one tends to deteriorate before the completion of the healing. At the opposite, the ‘human yarn’ is “a textile that is not recognized as foreign, that is long lasting, and that the body can slowly remodel to fit its needs”. (2)

Turning the sheets of cells into threads (4)

To get there, the researchers first created sheets of cells fully derived from adult human tissues. The sheets are then sliced into ribbons or threads, and devitalized (dried and spooled). They can later be crocheted, braided (to make sutures) or knitted (to create 3D implants). The researcher successfully used the human yarn as a suture material. They also designed a vascular graft (a woven tube) thanks to a custom made circular loom.

The human yarn can be transformed through all the classical textile techniques (5)

Although this innovation is still at its early stages, we can hope for further developments and a wider use of the “human textile” in the future. This research is also a striking example of the advance that can result from the meeting of two fields as different as biology and textile.

Footnotes and links :

Iris Favand is a fashion designer based in Paris. Before pursuing a fashion degree at Parsons, New York, she studied humanities and art history. Her practice is driven by her love of fashion history and by her convictions on gender equality.

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