March 25, 2009 You’ve probably never thought of mussels or inkjet printers having much to do with time in surgery. Research by North Carolina State University is underway to create a medical adhesive to replace traditional sutures. Mussels on rocks are near impossible to pry off by hand if you’ve ever tried (let’s face it, you have) due to their adhesive proteins that can bond them to stone underwater to resist the relentless surging of the sea. The researchers believe this mussel glue and a variation on an inkjet printer could “result in faster healing, less scarring and increased precision for exacting operations such as eye surgery.”

Presently there are two ways to draw tissue together after surgery – sutures (stitches) and synthetic adhesive. The first requires skill and takes time, and can also create further complications such as discomfort, infection and inflammation, researchers say. Synthetic adhesives on the other hand, are possibly toxic and bad for the environment. Because of this they are not biodegradable to the human body, which then may cause further problems with inflammation and even tissue damage.

Isolated adhesive proteins used in the ‘glue’ of mussels may be used the same way as the synthetic adhesives, only without the risks involved. The mussel adhesive is natural, free of formaldehyde and has the advantage of breaking down in the body. It would be placed in a solution and then applied using piezoelectric inkjet printer technology for precision and would have quite a number of applications. The University study’s co-author Dr. Roger Narayan says it may "significantly improve wound repair in eye surgery, wound closure and fracture fixation." The technology would allow joining of the tissue in “just the right spot” with better bonding and have the advantage of less scarring. Such precise technology would be a benefit to surgery that relies on pin-point accuracy.

It seems scientists are looking more and more at nature’s own way of doing things. The biotechnology research into sea going critters includes self-repairing car paint and underwater adhesive.

The University believes this will be a major improvement to next generation surgery. And sure, when the needle and thread are coming towards you, you may be thinking about mussels and inkjet printers after all.

Jamilah Le