Saturday, 16 June 2012


A child from Dunmanway in 1938 (National Folklore Schools Collection) mentions the use of cobwebs to stop bleeding. I have also heard anecdotal reports from patients that this has been used until very recently, to staunch bleeding when dehorning cattle, as well as for cuts and scrapes. 
I have used it in the case of a deep gash in the top of the head measuring 3cm  and bleeding profusely. One of the problems in applying cobwebs is that they lose their structure as soon as they are removed from their abode. this makes it very difficult to spread over the entire area that needs to be covered. I have found that two forceps to hold the cobeweb is better then fingers! In this instance the bleeding stopped within 55 seconds and within a day the wound had healed.
Charles Stuart Parnell crushed his hand in machinery at his Arklow quarries and an old servant dressed the injured fingers with cobwebs from the cellar walls (O’Shea, 1914). 

Cobwebs were among one of Galen’s (129 -200 AD) favourite wound dressings and they were also used in wound care in ancient Egypt (Roberts and Walters, 1997). The Tadhg Ó Cuinn (1415) manuscript tells us this about cobwebs:
Tele rania: i.e. the spider’s web; cold and dry; it has the retentive virtue; it stops the bleeding of wounds, and it heals as we have said.’
 It is quite extraordinary that this gem of wisdom survived the vicissitudes of Irish history to appear in a notebook in Doire na Cathrach, Dunmanway in the 1930s, where the Principal was Risteárd Mac Gearailt. 
Shakespeare also speaks of the staunching properties of cobwebs in A Midsummer Night's Dream:
I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good master cobweb,
If I cut my finger, I shall make bold of you.
Russian researchers of the State Research Center of Russian Federation GosNIIgentics, Scientific Research Center “Coal-Chemical Fiber”, State Research Center of Applied Microbiology in cooperation with their colleagues from Michigan University with support form the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) (project 1033.2) are also investigating cobwebs but they are interested in the proteins of cobweb framework filaments, which make them extremely strong (the rupture strength of these filaments is several times higher than that of steel) and elastic at the same time.
Cobweb framework filaments consist of two proteins: spidroin-1 and spidroin-2. They differ slightly in their properties: spidroin-1 is considered to be stronger, and spidroin-2 – more elastic. Together they account for unique properties of spider’s web. (there is probably much more to a cobweb but that is what the scientist's say!)
Such material would prove useful for multiple purposes, but first of all – for medicine: as suture material, artificial ligaments and tendons, films for healing wounds and burns, etc.  This project is hooping to develop this protein by synthesizing a respective gene and making it work within the composition of some other microorganism.
More information on this can be got from the following

ScienceDaily  in Aug. 10, 2011, also reported novel research into cobwebs where genetically engineered spider silk could help overcome a major barrier to the use of gene therapy in everyday medicine, according to a new study that reported development and successful initial laboratory tests of such a material. It appears in ACS' journal Bioconjugate Chemistry.

They report that David Kaplan and colleagues note that gene therapy -- the use of beneficial genes to prevent or treat disease -- requires safe and efficient carriers or "vectors." Those carriers are the counterparts to pills and capsules, transporting therapeutic genes into cells in the body. Safety and other concerns surround the experimental use of viruses to insert genes. The lack of good gene delivery systems is a main reason why there are no FDA-approved gene therapies, despite almost 1,500 clinical trials since 1989. The new study focused on one promising prospect, silk proteins, which are biocompatible and have been used in everyday medicine and medical research for decades.
The scientists describe modifying spider silk proteins so that they attach to diseased cells and not healthy cells. They also engineered the spider silk to contain a gene that codes for the protein that makes fireflies glow in order to provide a visual signal (seen using special equipment) that the gene has reached its intended target. In lab studies using mice containing human breast cancer cells, the spider-silk proteins attached to the cancer cells and injected the DNA material into the cells without harming the mice.
The results suggest that the genetically-engineered spider-silk proteins represent "a versatile and useful new platform polymer for nonviral gene delivery," the article notes.
The authors acknowledged funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Randolph Lewis at the University of Wyoming in Laramie is also working on spider's webs and explained that studies on animals have revealed that spider silk triggers little if any immune responses, which cause rejection of medical implants. So his lab and others are spinning spider silks into fibers that they hope might be useful in medicine.
Lewis  also said that researchers at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., have found that spider webs could be used as scaffolds for regenerating ligaments damaged in one of the world's most common knee injuries — ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments, or ACLs.
"We're also looking at spider silk in artificial tendons," he said. Scientists are also developing spider silk to make exceptionally fine sutures for stitching up surgeries or wounds to nerves or eyes, to potentially help them heal without scarring. "Right now we haven't even optimized the silks we've produced yet, and we're in the ballpark of the material properties you'd want for artificial tendons and ligaments," Lewis told LiveScience. 

Such a novel use for a cobweb...but is it THAT far removed from the Egyptians using it as scaffold on wounds for tissue to grow on.