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This Potentially Life-Saving Glue Is Made From Barnacles

For several years, MIT scientists at Zhao’s lab have been working on developing a solution to effectively stop bleeding. Currently sutures (sterile surgical threads that are used to repair cuts) are the most commonly used practice to seal wounds, however it can be a time consuming process. In recent years, materials that can halt bleeding have become commercially available, known as hemostatic agents. However these still take several minutes to form a seal and don’t always work for more profuse bleeding.

The team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology started by creating a double sided tape in 2019, which had the ability to close surgical incisions. However their most recent development of a new tissue glue, inspired by barnacles, is even more impressive, having shown promising capabilities in initial studies.

For their new tissue glue, the researchers from Zhao’s lab drew inspiration from the natural world around them. They decided to focus their attention on barnacles, small crustaceans that attach themselves to rocks, ship hulls and other animals such as whales. These surfaces are wet and often dirty, therefore making adhesion (sticking to them) difficult.      

“This caught our eye,” Yuk says. “It's very interesting because to seal bleeding tissues, you have to fight with not only wetness but also the contamination from this outcoming blood. We found that this creature living in a marine environment is doing exactly the same thing that we have to do to deal with complicated bleeding issues.”

Image of barnacles in their natural habitat.

How does it work?

After careful analysis, researchers found that barnacle glue has sticky protein molecules which help the barnacles attach the wet and dirty surfaces. These molecules are suspended in an oil which repels water and any contaminants found on the surface, therefore allowing the adhesive proteins to stick firmly to the surface.

The team of researchers mimicked this glue by adapting a previously developed adhesive, freezing it into sheets and grinding it into microparticles. These microparticles were then suspended in medical grade silicone oil. As as result, when applied to a wet surface such as a blood covered tissue, the oil repels the blood and any other substance which may be present. This allows a tight seal to be formed across the wound as the microparticles crosslink together.  


- The glue sets within an incredible 15 to 30 seconds, researchers showed in tests with rats, much faster than other methods currently used.

- The glue paste can be molded to fit irregular wounds, an advantage over using the double sided tape.  

- There is better bleeding control. It works much faster and effectively than other commercially available hemostatic agents. Even against blood thinners, initial studies in pigs showed the glue was still highly effective.   

- Studies showed that the seal remains in tact for weeks, giving the tissue below time to heal itself.

- There was little inflammation as a result of the glue, similar to that produced currently by hemostatic agents.

- The glue is slowly reabsorbed within the body over months and can also be removed earlier if needed by applying a solution that dissolves it.

- It could be extremely useful during surgical procedures, where a great amount of time is spent controlling bleeding.  

- Another added benefit is that the glue would be able to stop bleeding that occurs in patients who have plastic tubes inserted into their blood vessels, such as those used to arterial and central venous catheters, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. This would help to prevent potential infection which may arise when bleeding occurs at the sites of insertion.