A material inspired by slug mucus could become a revolutionary surgical adhesive.
Adhesives are a crucial part of medicine. If a part of the body is cut open, there needs to be a way to close it again. For simple cuts, there’s plaster and gauze, and for larger wounds there’s medical adhesives like liquid stitches and super glue. But all of these share the same problem. They can’t do anything when they’re wet.
This might be a small irritation if you get a cut while swimming, but for doctors and surgeons the lack of good adhesives is a major issue. While some adhesives do work when wet, they all have a range of problems, such as toxicity or difficulty binding to people’s skin or internal organs.
Fortunately, researchers at Harvard may have found an alternative, although you’re not going to like it. The researchers developed a compound that mimicked the adhesive properties of the mucus of the Dusky Arion species of slug.
That’s right. In the future surgeons might close you up with some slug mucus.
The Dusky Arion slug has an interesting defence mechanism. When it’s attacked, it secretes a special kind of mucus that sticks it to the ground. Predators can’t move the slug, so they just leave it and find something easier to eat.
This mucus is a strong adhesive, but more importantly it’s made of organic material. This means it won’t be toxic and will biodegrade naturally. As a bonus, it also works when wet. By analysing the chemical makeup of the slug mucus, the researchers were able to create something similar in the lab. Their adhesive also has the benefit of being very stretchy, which makes it perfect when used on a body in motion.
Using slug mucus
The team thoroughly tested their new adhesive on several different organs in both wet and dry conditions and found their formula performed better than any other adhesive. It also lasts a long time. When tested in rats it maintained its adhesion for two weeks.
The researchers hope that their new adhesive will be used to speed up healing in surgery patients, either by closing up surface wounds or by sealing internal injuries. Future projects might be able to find even more uses for the material, such as in the field of soft robotics or drug delivery. There’s a wide range of possible roles for a sticky slug-based glue.
And if your next surgery goes well, be sure to thank a slug.
Image credit: Steven Falk via Flickr
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.