Inspiration for new technologies can come from the unlikeliest of places and such is the case with a new medical super-material that is being hailed by experts as having the 'potential to improve healthcare and save lives'.
A new type of 'bio-glue' has been created, drawing inspiration from a defensive mucus secreted by slugs.
Credit: Sairon James/Creative Commons
While it's true that medical glues do already exist, current options are weak, toxic to cells, brittle and unable to dry on wet materials - a real problem, given the nature of biological tissues.
"Basically we can solve all those issues associated with previous adhesives," said Jianyu Li, first author of the research from Harvard University.
Scientists at the university turned to the 'Dusky Arion' slug for the key to create this new medical superglue, due to the sticky mucus it secretes when under threat from a predator.
"We engineered our material to take on the key features of slug mucus and the result is really positive," Dr Li said.
"I'm really amazed by this system. We have solved a big challenge and opened up big opportunities in the medical setting.
"The applications are pretty broad - the material is very tough, stretchy and compliant, which is very useful when you want to interface with a dynamic tissue like the heart or lungs."
Scientists also have ideas about the substance's potential uses for delivering drugs to specific parts of the body, or for sticking medical devices directly to organs.
Dr Chris Holland, from the department of materials science and engineering at the University of Sheffield, told the BBC: "It's really cool, I must admit.
"It is clear it outperforms the alternatives on the market and oh my goodness, there is potentially absolutely huge demand.
"They are still at an early stage, but this kind of thing could be part of a surgeon's standard kit."
Harvard University's Wyss Institute, which has applied for a patent is also working on developing a biodegradable version of the bio-glue, which would disappear naturally as wounds healed.
Prof John Hunt, the research theme lead for medical technologies and advanced materials at Nottingham Trent University, explained to BBC News: "The need for new adhesives as glues or tapes is clear to all healthcare providers.
"This one has the potential to improve healthcare and save lives.
"This research is really exciting [but] the detail of the biocompatibility will need to go beyond what is presented in the paper to guide the long-term clinical efficacy, safety, and therefore the real medical applications."
Source: BBC News
Featured Image Credit: Flickr/richardghawley (Creative Commons)