Wound-healing sticky tape for surgeries inspired by spiders

Who would have thought that our eight-legged friends could inspire the design of a double-sided tape to seal body tissue together after surgery?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) designed a double-sided tape to glue body tissue together post-surgery, inspired by the natural “glue” that spiders secrete to catch their prey in the rain. The spider glue contains water-absorbent charged polysaccharides which create a small dry area on the surface of an insect prey. This then allows the glue to stick almost immediately.

Tissues are naturally moist with water on their surface which makes them hard to seal together to prevent infection after surgery. Mimicking the spider’s glue, the researchers used polyacrylic acid on the tape to absorb water from wet body tissues, which then allows the glue to adhere quickly. The biologically-inspired sticky tape sealed organ tissues together within seconds when tested on wet pig and rat tissues. 

Current surgeries use staples or sutures – stitches using a length of “thread” – to close a wound. However, they do not effectively form a tight seal and cause stress on the tissues, which leads to a higher risk of infections, pain and scarring. Existing tissue glues have low biological compatibility – the ability of a material to perform without rejection from the host tissue – and take several minutes to work, longer compared to the new tape which takes just five seconds, according to the study author Hyunwoo Yuk. 

The tape contains biodegradable gelatin or chitosan to hold its shape. Their composition in the tape can be varied depending on how long it needs to last – for a few days or a month. The double-sided tape was also proposed to attach medical devices to organs such as the heart “without causing damage or secondary complications from puncturing tissue”, the BBC reports. The authors claimed that this tape offers advantages including fast adhesion formation, robust adhesion performance, flexibility, and ease of storage and use.

The study was a great proof-of-concept and a big first step towards improving surgery. However, more in-depth research should be done and the team are still several years away from human trials. The long-term effects from exposure to such medical glues will need to be investigated.

The study was published in Nature and the paper can be found at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1710-5

This article was written by Yen Peng Chew and edited by Miles Martin

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