Better skin grafts inspired by parasitic worm

Taking a reluctant look at parasites — those creatures that invade our bodies, attach themselves to us and feed off of us — they seem to have developed with a strategy in mind of being as diabolical as they can possibly be in their efforts to cling on to their host.

A group of researchers at the Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston have taken a close look at the methods of one particular parasite, though, and have come up with a new way of attaching skin grafts that far surpasses the strength and safety of the surgical staples currently used.

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The species they took their inspiration from is a spiny-headed parasitic worm, known as Pomphorhynchus laevis, that lives in the intestines of fish. According to an article from Science Daily, this worm attaches itself by spearing its 'cactus-like' head through the inside wall of the intestine and then plumping it up so that it's bigger than the hole it made. Imitating this, the researchers came up with a 'microneedle adhesive' that works in the same way.

The adhesive patch has rows of tiny hard-plastic needles, with the tips of the needles composed of a substance that is rigid when it's dry, but that swells in contact with water. Thus, when this patch is applied, the needles easily pierce into the tissue, and the patch is locked into place as the tips expand when they contact the water inside the tissue.

Not only are these new adhesive patches stronger than surgical staples, but they will also be safer, as the small holes created by the needles are immediately sealed when the material expands to hold the patch in place. This will prevent bacteria from getting in and causing an infection, which still remains a possibility with staples (although apparently a lower possibility than other methods).

"The unique design allows the needles to stick to soft tissues with minimal damage to the tissues. Moreover, when it comes time to remove the adhesive, compared to staples, there is less trauma inflicted to the tissue, blood and nerves, as well as a reduced risk of infection," said Professor Jeffrey Karp, of the Karp Laboratory, according to Science Daily.

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While it's still disturbing to think of how some creatures have developed these insidious ways of living, it's inspiring to see how we can adapt those ways to help medical science better treat our sick and injured.

(Photo courtesy: Harvard Medical School/Jeffrey Karp)

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