Sandcastle worm — research and development
The sandcastle worm makes its tube-like beach home by gluing together bits of sand and shell. It grabs the bits with its tentacles, then dispenses what is essentially a two-part protein glue from its head, one tiny bead at a time.
Researchers at Harvard, MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston, and the University of Coimbra in Portugal have reported a proof of principle in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science for a bio-compatible surgical glue that is catalyzed by light and can set in the dynamic and watery conditions of the human body.
The hydrophobic, light-activated adhesive is non-toxic and has been tested successfully on the blood vessel and heart tissue walls of pigs as described in Science Translational Medicine journal last January. The adhesive formed a hemostatic seal within seconds of the application of UV light, and remained intact for 24 hours despite the movement and pressure of the living tissue.
Many different labs (including at the University of Utah) have done years of research on natural processes to create a non-toxic glue that can set underwater, and this is an important milestone along the path to create more benign medical methods.
Applications include surgery on the delicate tissue of newborns and children, the sealing of sutures, and repair of congenital heart defects. It is also an example of replication of a process at the molecular scale, and the synthetic customizing of known natural materials with enhancing properties.
Photo by Fred Hayes for the University of Utah.