Diana Eusebio, Fiber ’20
Erin Kirchner, Fiber ’18
Grace Kwon, Fiber ’20
Rachel Rusk, Fiber ’19
Sydney Sieh-Takata, Fiber ’20
Kerasynth is a synthetic, bio-material that can replace keratin-based animal fibers. The complex protein and fiber structure of wool inspired us to find a way to grow wool without sheep. We utilize tissue engineering to grow wool Hair Follicle Germ (HFG) cells on microfluidic devices designed to provide the cells with nutrients and remove waste. The subsequent wool could then be harvested and processed or remain on the microfluidic device. This approach could expand outside of sheep wool and apply to other keratin-based structures such as fur and feathers. Growing colored, keratin-based fibers of different grades could also occur and be produced without the risk and expense of growing and modifying an entire organism.
Another component of our project is proposing ways for tissue engineering to become more accessible technology. To realize this goal, we created the speculative company DermaWool that would develop and patent this method of production before licensing other companies to use their technology. Less-privileged communities would gain access through community centers and school programs. By democratizing the knowledge used in creating Kerasynth, we hope to provide a material solution that not only addresses human consumer needs and protects animal welfare while being inclusive in its production.
Kerasynth was presented at the 2018 Biodesign Summit at MoMA and selected as a finalist for the Animal-free Wool Challenge and the overall Biodesign Challenge. The project was featured in the “Art in the Age of Biotechnology” exhibition at NC State, and included in the excellent exhibition catalog. Kerasynth was displayed at the New Fabric of Baltimore expo and has received attention in the press from multiple venues. Kerasynth was also featured in the book Grow the Future: Visions of Biodesign.