Sick of those unsightly scars? Reach for some mussel glue…

Deep cuts almost always lead to unsightly scars. But now, a creature of the deep is about to fix it all.

Scars could be a result of surgery, or from an accident, or from combat. A person’s accumulation of scars tell tales their owner won’t always want to share. Their prominence is dependent on how quickly sutures were applied, the skill of those applying them, and how quickly the wound heals.

And the whole matter becomes far more finicky when it comes to skin grafts.

So, the drive to find quicker and more effective means of binding wounds together than thread, staples, and wire has been gathering pace for decades.

Now an answer appears to have been found: in mussels – as in, the aquatic bivalve mollusc.

Mussels are renowned for their ability to adhere to virtually anything. They’ve been attaching themselves to the likes of rocks, timbers, whales  – and ships – since time eternal. That they can do so in water makes the ability even more extraordinary. It’s an ability that’s notionally extremely useful for engineering and medicine.

Now South Korean researchers have isolated a substance that makes these molluscs so difficult to pry off their perches. And the adhesive protein in question has been replicated in the lab with some added controls through associated drugs.

The Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) believes its bioadhesive is ready for market. A proposed system for scarless skin grafting has been published in the Chemical Engineering Journal

“Unlike sutures, it leaves minimal scarring on the wound area and is harmless to the human body because it utilizes mussel adhesive protein, a biomaterial,” reports a POSTECH statement.

New mussel bioadhesive
Schematic diagram of the sutureless skin graft medical adhesive based on mussel protein that can load and release wound-healing drugs Allantoin and epidermal growth factor.

It’s not just a matter of smearing mollusc goo on a cut. Two drugs – Allantoin and epidermal growth factor – are added to the mussel-derived bioadhesive gel in a controlled release that matches the state of the regenerating skin.

The outcome, researchers say, is a far more efficient revival of collagen and skin layers along with minimal loss of associated hair follicle cells.

The material that provides a biologic scaffold upon which healing tissue can attach itself. And that can potentially improve complicated jobs – such as repairing a hernia or Achilles tendon. Its binding properties can be adjusted by the associated chemical release.

Mollusc adhesive research is ongoing worldwide. Some teams are looking at ways of using it to improve the repair of fractured bones. Others are testing its functionality to release medications and in cellular engineering.

But mostly, it’s expected to improve the outcome of skin grafts, where traditional suturing offers minimal bonding support.

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