Scientists create incredibly strong bio-glue inspired by slug mucus

July 28, 2017

A team of scientists at the Harvard University in the US has created a new kind of medical adhesive inspired by the defensive mucus secreted by slugs.

The incredibly strong bio-glue moves with the body and, more importantly, sticks to wet surfaces. The team has even used it to seal a hole in a pig’s heart.

Getting something to stick to a damp surface has been a huge challenge.

The university’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering turned to the “Dusky Arion” slug, which creates sticky mucus as a defense against predators.

“We engineered our material to take on the key features of slug mucus and the result is really positive,” researcher Dr. Jianyu Li said.

The bio-glue they produced has two components – the actual adhesive and a biochemical “shock absorber”.

The incredible stickiness comes from the trinity of the attraction between the positively charged glue and negatively charged cells in the body; covalent bonds between atoms in the cell surface and the glue, and the way the glue physically penetrates tissue surfaces.

But it is the shock-absorbing component that is crucial – it takes the physical stress and strain, so the adhesive component stays stuck.

Experiments show the glue is not toxic to living tissue and is three times stronger than any other medical adhesive.

The team has solved a big challenge and opened up big opportunities in the medical setting, said Dr. Li in an interview. Dr. Li also said that the applications of the bio-glue are pretty broad, adding that the material is very tough, stretchy and compliant – characteristics that are useful for interfacing with a dynamic tissue like the lungs or heart.

It could be used as a patch on the skin or as a liquid injected into wounds deeper in the body.There are also ideas about using it as a way of releasing drugs to specific parts of the body or to stick medical devices to organs like those to help the heartbeat.

The glue adheres to a surface within three minutes, but then gets stronger. Within half an hour it is as strong as the body’s own cartilage.

But there is not yet a technology ready for medical use.

So far it has proven its capabilities mechanically in the laboratory, in tests on rats and by sealing a hole in a pig’s heart through tens of thousands of simulated heartbeats.

The Wyss Institute, which has applied for a patent, says the glue is cheap to make.It is also working on biodegradable versions that would naturally disappear as the body heals.

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