Biodesign Challenge Finalists Put Their Skin in the Game
What if skincare was as simple as throwing on your favorite t-shirt or a comfortable pair of pants? Fabiont, a fabric developed by NYU Tandon students Pooja Patel, Pratik Jain, and Youbin Lee, is a radical solution to protecting the human skin microbiome. Manufactured from silk fibroins and infused with probiotics, it is a material designed to protect, and perhaps enhance, the human skin microbiome.
Fabiont came about in the spring of 2018: Patel, Jain, and Lee took the course, Micro-Environment Exploration Lab, offered by NYU Tandon’s Integrated Digital Media program, where they were tasked with working in groups to engineer a product or service that could fit under the umbrella of biodesign. After brainstorming, the group decided they were most interested in silk fibroin extraction, and they landed on creating a textile that acts as a membrane, strengthening the skin’s naturally given microbiome. Says Patel, “We wanted to create a textile because we thought that the best way to increase awareness of the skin microbiome and the importance of protecting it was through the fashion industry — an industry that is based on trends and exposure.”
With the guidance of Assistant Professors Elizabeth Henaff and Chris Woebken, Patel, Jain, and Lee entered Fabiont in the 2018 Biodesign Challenge Summit, an annual gathering that sets out to use life as a medium for understanding and developing technology. The summit offers prizes for outstanding field research, animal-free wool innovation, outstanding presentation, and overall excellence. With help from Professors Elizabeth Henaff and Chris Woebken, Fabiont was selected as a finalist in this year’s summit and was presented to a panel of judges at the Museum of Modern Art last week.
The team behind Fabiont focused on sustainable production methods involving genetically engineering algae to create biocompatible, biodegradable silk fibroins. By infusing textiles made with silk fibroins, materials of varying quality and thickness can be produced without using any animal products, a focus in this year’s Biodesign Challenge Summit, and in the fashion industry as a whole. The team also points out that by infusing their silk textiles with probiotics to maintain a healthy skin microbiome, it might be possible to avoid anti-bacterial products that ultimately make bacteria more antibiotic-resistant and thus pose a potential risk to public health. Common cloth-based products like sheets and towels are already being produced with probiotic capsules that are released during use. As the team behind Fabiont points out, however, these capsules have a limited lifespan and can be washed out during routine cleaning. Fabiont would therefore include an incubator meant to replenish the probiotics in the textile, populating it with bacteria healthy for human skin and ridding it of infectious microbes.
Though Fabiont is still being perfected, it has already gone through several iterations: the team has extracted the silk fibroin and has researched the guidelines for infusing it with probiotics, which are generally considered food products by the FDA. They also added sea salt to the silk fibroin, which dissolved after a water bath, creating a spongy, more fabric-like texture.
The trio has considered how to properly “dose” the textile so that it could never be used by someone intending to do harm by putting an unhealthy amount of probiotics in the fabric. Patel says that more research in the lab is needed to understand how microbes interact with the fabric before the team can move on to market research out in the field. From there, a more refined prototype of Fabiont can be developed.
Read more about Fabiont and how it was created at fabiont.carrd.co.
NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Master of Science in Integrated Digital Media, Class of 2019