Washington: Researchers are working to harness porcupine quill’s unique properties to develop surgical super glues, needles and other medical devices.
A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital also created artificial devices with the same features as the quills, raising the possibility of painless needles, or glues that can bind internal tissues more securely.
There is a great need for such adhesives, especially for patients who have undergone gastric-bypass surgery or other types of gastric or intestinal surgery.
These surgical incisions are now sealed with sutures or staples, which can leak and cause complications, say researchers.
“With further research, bio-materials modelled based on porcupine quills could provide a new class of adhesive materials,” said Robert Langer, professor at the MIT and senior study author, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported.
Jeffrey Karp, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Centre for Regenerative Therapeutics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, also co-authored the study, led by Woo Kyung Cho, postdoc in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), according to a MIT statement.
To create adhesives that would work in the body without producing adverse reactions, the research team turned to nature for inspiration.
“We believe that evolution is the best problem-solver,” Karp said.
In this case, they became interested in the North American porcupine, which has about 30,000 barbed quills to defend against predators.
Each quill is several centimetres long; the four millimetres at the very tip are covered in microscopic barbs.
To their surprise, the researchers found that despite the difficulty of removing the quills, they require very little force to penetrate tissue.
Compared to quills with no barbs, the barbed ones require 60 to 70 percent less force to penetrate muscle tissue.
The team then set out to determine how the quills achieve this unique combination of easy penetration and difficult removal.
“By understanding the mechanism, we can design an artificial system in the right way,” Cho said.
Langer and Karp introduced the concept of gecko-inspired medical bandages in 2008; however, “these require a reactive glue to adhere to wet tissues, while porcupine-quill-inspired adhesives attach to tissues beautifully without requiring the use of reactive chemistry,” Karp said.
“They are extremely versatile and potentially universal in their application.”