Sea Creatures Close Wounds


INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— Most of us know someone who has had a cut wide or deep enough to need stitches or someone who has had surgery, requiring doctors to close cavities inside the body. What if sealing skin was as simple as using a small dollop of adhesive? It’s one inspiration among hundreds from young scientists, taking research from the lab bench to the hospital bedside to close wounds.

Tanks full of sticky sea creatures that could soon improve modern surgery.

Purdue materials engineer Jonathan Wilker has spent years studying blue marine mussels to see what makes them stick to surfaces underwater.

When these mussels are happy in cold, moving water, they produce more plaque, the stringy material covering the glass.

“So, what these animals do, it seems, is they make fairly unique modifications to their proteins to turn them into adhesives,” explained Jonathan Wilker, PhD, a chemist and materials engineer and professor in the department of chemistry and school of materials engineering at Purdue University.

(Read Full Interview)

The same principles in a lab-engineered product could have a crucial role in surgeries. Wilker and his team are testing how the adhesives could bond bone or skin instead of stitches.

“If you have sutures, what you’re doing is you’re poking holes in healthy tissue, and then you’re tying things together. You’re creating sites of mechanical stress,” Wilker elaborated.

Wilker’s findings are among dozens of inventions this year that could change medical practices.

“What is very interesting at Purdue is we do not have a medical school, but we create quite a few human health-oriented companies,” stated Brian Edelman, president of the Purdue Research Foundation.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal named Purdue third behind MIT and Stanford for the number of start-up companies from university-licensed technology. Like new devices to monitor the heart, and another to detect cancer cells. And now, a pathway to bond the human body back together.

Professor Jonathan Wilker is working with the Purdue Research Foundation to patent his bio-adhesive discoveries. He says those adhesives are rich in iron, making them strong and flexible, and could be used in a number of ways.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer & Field Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Animals such as mussels are literally able to stick to their environments. Now scientists are analyzing their changing chemistry of sea waters and the mussel’s ability to adhere to their surroundings to develop adhesives that can be used for surgery. The large availability of this bioadhesive will enable researchers to develop new adhesives that will be waterproof, ecologically safe, and able to bind materials such as glass, plastics, metals, and wood. It can also bind materials such as bone, teeth, biological organisms, and other chemical molecules. Jonathan Wilker, PhD, a chemist and materials engineer, and professor in the department of chemistry at Purdue University says, “The “plaque” is the adhesive disc in contact with the surface. The “thread” that connects the adhesive plaque to the rest of the animal is called “thread.” The combination of all the plaques plus all the threads is called the “byssus.” Sometimes people also call it a “beard.” If you just look at a mussel and see all of this stuff coming out of the shell it’s the byssus or beard.


CURRENT METHODS: For humans, the typical choice of surgeries for healing lacerations, or cuts, to the skin is a suture. Sutures also are used for closing surgical incisions. A suture refers to the surgical threads that surgeons use and stitching refers to the technique that they use. For some wounds, due to trauma or surgery, staples must be used to close. There are two main types of sutures, nonabsorbable and absorbable. Nonabsorbable sutures are more often favored for skin wounds as they yield better cosmetic results. These sutures must be removed after the wound has finished healing and should not be left in too long to avoid scarring. These types of stitches are also desirable for internal wounds that need a longer amount of time to heal. The nature of nonabsorbable sutures allows them to stay strong for 300 days as they are either permanent or deteriorate very slowly. They are made from either natural fibers or synthetic threads, such as nylon, polypropylene, polyethylene, or polyester. Absorbable sutures are ideal for layers of material that can heal quickly such as muscles. These sutures are made to be able to dissolve gradually inside of the body using materials such as fibers that line animal intestines, also called catgut. These sutures are made with multiple fibers so they are less likely to break and are exceptionally strong in the first few days of healing. As they dissolve they lose most of their strength, typically, by the end of the second week, and dissolve completely within 60 days.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: One of the key components being studied in order to develop adhesives from marine mussels to replace sutures is a very unique class of proteins. Proteins have been called the machinery of biology as they can do a lot of different things. A large portion of the human body is made out of proteins or enzymes and what it seems that the blue marine mussels do, are they modify these proteins to create an adhesive quality. As researchers understand what exactly those modifications are, they can make synthetic versions of it on a larger scale. And because these researchers are creating the adhesive synthetically, they have the ability to adapt the materials to their needs. Professor Wilker’s lab at Purdue University has developed five to six new adhesive systems so far and they are constantly working on developing more and incorporating different properties into each.

(Source: (Source: Jonathan Wilker, PhD, Purdue University)




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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Jonathan Wilker, PhD, chemist and materials engineer and professor in the department of chemistry and school of materials engineering

Read the entire Q&A