Science

Here's how slug slime helped scientists develop medical super-glue for wounds

Here's how slug slime helped scientists develop medical super-glue for wounds

It isn't toxic to cells, which gives it an advantage over many surgical glues.

Researchers say their "next generation" adhesive has several potential medical applications. This glue was previously determined to be composed of a tough matrix peppered with positively charged proteins, which inspired Li and his colleagues at the Wyss Institute and Harvard's John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) to create a double-layered hydrogel consisting of an alginate-polyacrylamide matrix supporting an adhesive layer that has positively-charged polymers protruding from its surface.

When threatened by a predator, Dusky Arion slugs secrete a mucus that glues it in place, meaning the gastropods can not be pried away from the surface on which they're crawling. These slugs excrete a sticky, yellow-orange slime that adheres well to wet surfaces. "We are excited to see how this technology, inspired by a humble slug, might develop into a new technology for surgical fix and wound healing".

In their new study, published in the journal Science, the team tested their artificial slug mucus on several different animal tissues, including skin, cartilage, heart, artery and liver.

Four years ago, another research group developed a glue inspired by the underwater sticking properties of mussels, but Mooney thinks slugs win hands-down in terms of stickiness and flexibility.

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The material has two parts: a sticky layer that attaches to a surface, and a shock-absorbing layer that reduces strain.

But researchers from Harvard and McGill universities have created a super-strong "tough adhesive" that is biocompatible and binds to tissues with a strength comparable to the body's own resilient cartilage, even when they're wet. The material proved extremely stretchable, expanding 14 times its original length without ever breaking loose from the liver tissue.

In one test the new glue was used to close a wound in a blood-covered pig's heart and successfully maintained a leak-free seal after the heart was inflated and deflated tens of thousands of times.

STICK AND STRETCH This adhesive prototype can stick to the slick surface of a pig heart - and remain attached even when stretched.

To get around those problems, a group of scientists from Harvard and other research centers made a decision to learn from slugs, which - as well as making slime to glide on - can produce extremely adhesive mucus as a defense mechanism. The adhesive is both tough and flexible, and can adhere to wet, moving tissue, like heart muscle. He also holds a futuristic vision about the glue. They found that the new adhesive was as good at stopping the blood flow as the standard glue; the rats treated with the new glue experienced no additional hemorrhaging up to two weeks after the surgery. The research is reported in this week's issue of Science. The rats treated with the slime-inspired glue did not experience these side effects. That makes the adhesive less likely to snap off.


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