Sea creatures helping humans heal
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.
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.
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.
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