Mussel-like Surgical Adhesives? Surely That’s Been Done

In short

Mussel-inspired adhesives have been proposed before in surgical applications, the chemistry employed by the shellfish to anchor them to rocks being considered transferable to the operating room. A new article from Pennsylvania State University researchers brings things up to date.


The bonding chemistry of mussels has been used and extensively patent protected by US research company Nerites Corporation, which was itself swallowed up by Kensey Nash last year. Kensey Nash is now trying to commercially exploit the technology for use in tissue sealants, adhesives and a host of other applications.

One of the appeals of mimicking the mussel is that these things stick to rocks in a wet environment, somewhat akin to the demand of an often wet surgical field and moist human tissues.

Jian Yang, associate professor of bioengineering at Penn State, along with a team of University of Texas-Arlington researchers, has developed a wholly synthetic family of adhesives incorporating the chemical structure from the mussel’s adhesive protein into the design of an injectable synthetic polymer. These bio-adhesives, called iCMBAs, reportedly adhere well in wet environments, have controlled degradability, improved biocompatibility and lower manufacturing costs, putting them a step above current products such as fibrin glue and cyanoacrylate adhesives.

The researchers tested the newly developed iCMBAs on rats, using the adhesive and finger clamping to close three wounds for two minutes. Three other wounds were closed using sutures. The researchers reported their findings in a recent issue of Biomaterials.

The iCMBAs provided 2.5 to 8.0 times stronger adhesion in wet tissue conditions compared to fibrin glue. They also stopped bleeding instantly, facilitated wound healing, closed wounds without the use of sutures and offered controllable degradation. Side effects were limited to mild inflammation, the iCMBAs being also non-toxic, and because they are fully synthetic, unlikely to cause allergic reactions.

The iCMBAs could eventually be used in a wide range of surgical disciplines from suture and staple replacement to tissue grafts to treat hernias, ulcers and burns.
Investigator comments

“To solve this medical problem, we looked at nature,” said Jian Yang. “There are sea creatures, like the mussel, that can stick on rocks and on ships in the ocean. They can hold on tightly without getting flushed away by the waves because the mussel can make a very powerful adhesive protein. We looked at the chemical structure of that kind of adhesive protein.”

“If you want the material to stay there for one week, we can control the polymer to degrade in one week,” said Yang. “If you want the material to stay in the wound for more than a month, we can control the synthesis to make the materials degrade in one month.”

“We are still optimising our formulation,” said Yang. “We are still trying to make the adhesion strength even stronger” to expand its use for things like broken bones where strong adhesion is tremendously important.

“There are so many applications that you can use this glue for to help in surgery,” said Yang.

Hope he’s checked out the Nerites IP.

Source: Pennsylvania State University