For decades, researchers have sought the secrets behind the mussel’s steadfast grip on wet, slippery rock. Now they’ve found a way to transform the mussel’s biochemical tricks into a biocompatible glue that can seal fetal membranes. ScienceNOW reports.
Prenatal surgeons can repair some birth defects (such as spina bifida) while a fetus is still in utero. But the surgery risks rupturing the protective fetal membrane prematurely, triggering premature labor.
There are no good adhesives on the market that can repair these fetal-membrane tears – the main reason why fetal surgery remains risky.
So researchers looked to mussels. To stick to wet, salty surfaces, these bivalves secrete liquid proteins that harden into a solid, water resistant glue. This substrate shares the same desired properties as medical adhesives, according to Phillip Messersmith of Northwestern University.
His team created a synthetic, thread-like polymer — called polyethylene glycol — that mimics the mussel protein. And they tipped it with an amino acid that’s found on the parts of mussel proteins that face out toward the hard surface.
When they tested their mussel-inspired glue on a 3.5-mm hole in a rabbit fetal membrane, the puncture was sealed. Without the glue, only 40% of the baby bunnies survived the surgery, but with the glue, 60% did.
The work was presented at the annual AAAS meeting here in Boston.
Image: J. Fang