A couple of days ago, I was watching an episode of House. Chase was being his surgical mastermind self and deftly stitching together a hold in a patient’s heart that the team had just finished saying would be really difficult. Then something occurred to me. One of the most advanced hospitals in the world is using a piece of string to tie pieces of people together.
Is this really the best we can do?
While some advancements have been made – such as stitches that disintegrate on their own rather than requiring another appointment to cut them out – there is still much that could be done. Liquid bandages have shown to be useful for small scrapes and cuts. In a pinch, superglue is a great way to put a couple of pieces of skin together.
None of these adhesives, however, do a damn bit of good inside the human body. Some substances can be toxic if applied within the protective layer of skin while others simply can’t grab on to a wet surface. This is a problem, seeing as how the inside of a person is a very wet place that requires a lot of sticking power.
Recently, a team of researchers from Penn State University may have made a breakthrough. Where did they go for inspiration? Why, the woman that has solved just about every riddle we’ve asked tens of thousands of years before we asked it – Mother Nature.
Here’s how I like to imagine it played out. A graduate student was on spring break with giant rum and coke in hand watching the tide go out. There, he noticed the tiny foot of a mussel resting on the sand. Except, it wasn’t resting at all. The waves broke over the animal over and over but it didn’t budge. Later that month, the graduate student asked his professor why they couldn’t come up with a substance to stick under water if a lousy mussel could.
The professor, of course, didn’t have a good answer to that. Thus, the graduate student immediately started identifying the chemical composition of whatever the hell it was keeping the mussel from being swept to sea. Once that was isolated, the team hit the lab and synthesized a bunch of different variants, and the grad student had a himself/herself a thesis.
In that research publication, the researchers describe the resulting substance based on the stickiness of mussels. Not only does it perform 2.5-8 times better on wet surfaces than the current best option, fibrin glue, it’s non-toxic and is naturally flushed away by the body after a specified amount of time. It instantly stopped bleeding, facilitated wound healing and closed wounds without sutures.
Next on the task lists, the researchers are trying to see if they can find a way to make the substance even more useful by making it an antibiotic.
The paper, “Injectable citrate-based mussel-inspired tissue bioadhesives with high wet strength for sutureless wound closure,” was published in Biomaterials by Jian Yang, associate professor of bioengineering at Penn State, along with University of Texas-Arlington researchers Mohammadreza Mehdizadeh, Hong Weng, Dipendra Gyawali and Liping Tang.