Scientists have created a medical adhesive inspired by flatworm goo

Uncontrolled haemorrhage – or loss of huge amounts of blood – might mean someone only has minutes between life and death.

In some situations, the wound can be compressed to stop the flow of blood, but some areas, like the torso for example, can’t be compressed.

There are also problems when a wound is too bloody to seal with medical glue.

Luckily ‘flatworm goop’ is here to help, with researchers in Canada designing a bioadhesive inspired by flatworms and mussels’ ability to stick to some, frankly, gross surfaces. They’ve called it liquid-infused microstructured bioadhesives or LIMB.

In nature, some marine organisms adhere to bio-fouled surfaces with adhesives that feature microstructural architecture and infused liquid, the team write in their new paper published in Nature Communications.

“Examples include mussel plaques with microporous structure and flatworms with gland channels for storage and delivery of adhesive liquids.”

Although the technology is still in very early phases, the hope is that it may help some of the two million people who die worldwide every year from haemorrhaging or blood loss.

Read more: Primordial life-giving goo inspires new medical implant technology

“The entire application process is quick and pressure-free, which is suitable for non-compressible haemorrhage situations, which are often life-threatening,” says lead author Guangyu Bao who undertook the research while at McGill.

“When applied to the bleeding site, the new adhesive uses suction to absorb blood, clear the surface for adhesion, and bond to the tissue providing a physical seal.”

LIMB is effective, but not super pretty. The patch uses the blood as part of the sealant, using fibrin fibres to form a bond and creating a red jelly like substance on top of the wound to seal it.  

The researchers used pigs and rats to see how LIMB functioned. After cutting into a rat’s and pig’s liver, the team then measured how much blood was lost with gauze, combat gauze, a current medical device called SURGIFOAM and existing non-structured bioadhesives. LIMB did better than every other technology tested.

“Our material showed much better-improved safety and bleeding control efficiency than other commercial products. Beyond bleeding control, our material could one day replace wound sutures or deliver drugs to provide therapeutic effects,” says McGill bioengineer Professor Jianyu Li.

This is still many years away from being used in the field. Researchers will need to test this further, and eventually bring the item to clinical trials.

The Canadian team also aren’t the only ones with these ideas. Last year MIT created a bio-inspired, blood repelling tissue glue to mimic the way barnacles cling to rocks.

We’re looking forward to seeing what happens.

Please login to favourite this article.