Mussels have an amazing ability to cling to rocks, even when buffeted by large waves and ocean debris on a daily basis. Now, scientists have created a bioadhesive gel inspired by those mussels, that could potentially be used to reinforce weakened blood vessels.
The gel, which was developed by a team at MIT, is capable of withstanding the flow velocity of the human bloodstream. It is said to be similar to an amino acid present in the mussel’s byssus – this is a fibrous adhesive material that's stiff enough to keep the mollusk in place, yet stretchy enough to flex without snapping.
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In the same way that putty can be used to fill in dents in a wall, it is hoped that the gel could be "painted" onto the inside of compromised human blood vessel walls, to keep them from rupturing. It could also conceivably be used as an insulating barrier, to keep stents (which are inserted in narrowed blood vessels to open them up) from causing inflammation through direct contact with the blood vessel wall.
The most promising use of the gel, however, would be to keep blood vessel plaque deposits from rupturing. When such deposits do rupture, the released plaque can cause heart attacks or strokes, by blocking blood flow to the heart or brain. In lab tests, mice had their plaque deposits covered with a version of the gel that contained an anti-inflammatory steroid. Subsequently, those mice were shown to have more stable plaque than a group of untreated animals.
The University of British Columbia assisted in the research, which was recently described in a paper published in the journal PNAS Early Edition. The University of Chicago has previously created a mussel-inspired gel of its own, which could possibly find use as a surgical adhesive or a bonding agent for implants.