The ability of mussels to stubbornly bind themselves to underwater surfaces has intrigued scientists for years. If this ability could be recreated in the lab, it could lead to new adhesives for all kinds of applications. A team of Korean scientists has now developed a surgical glue inspired by these natural wonders that's claimed to be cheaper, more reliable and incur less scarring than existing solutions.
In surgery, stitches and staples are very effective at binding body tissue together, but they can cause scarring and aren't always appropriate when treating more sensitive flesh and organs. These drawbacks have motivated the development of adhesives that are strong enough to hold tissue together in wet environments, and do so without inciting adverse chemical reactions.
The proteins that mussels use to latch onto rocks, ships and jetties in the face of crashing ocean waves has been the focus of much research in this area. In 2009, North Carolina State University researchers revealed work aiming to develop a synthetic adhesive that combined these proteins with inkjet printer technology. We've also seen MIT create waterproof adhesives inspired by these clingy compounds.
Scientists at Pohang University of Science and Technology have taken a slightly different approach. Their solution was inspired by intersections of amino acids called tyrosines that can be found in dragonfly wings and insect cuticles. These are created by exposure to visible light, a process that boosts both their strength and stickiness.
The team found that when they took mussel proteins chock-full of tyrosines and exposed them to blue visible light, the photochemical reaction saw them instantly pair up to form these tyrosine intersections. The result was a material with better structural stability and adhesive properties. They have dubbed it light-activated, mussel protein-based adhesive (LAMBA) and claim to have proven its superiority to existing surgical glues. In testing the glue in animals, the scientist say it was able to close bleeding wounds in less than 60 seconds and healed them without inflammation or scarring.
The research was published in the journal Biomaterials.
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