Few things sound as disgusting to our ears as the words “slug slime.” But scientists and medical professionals now have a reason to love the sticky mucus secreted by one of the world’s least favorite creatures. This is because slug slime is the inspiration behind a new and experimental surgical glue that could prove extremely helpful in closing wounds from surgery and injury.
Medical glues have been in use for years, but they suffer from a host of problems. They can only work on dry surfaces, so they won’t work in all conditions. They often don’t adhere very well, and they dry too stiffly. They are also too toxic to be used inside the human body. This new slug-inspired glue promises to correct these problems.
The researchers from Harvard University who developed the glue studied the European slug Arion subfuscus, which secretes a defensive mucus to protect against predators. This mucus can form strong bonds even on wet surfaces. It is also highly flexible, so it doesn’t crack or become too stiff after it dries.
The scientists have created a man-made version of the slug mucus based on its chemical properties (no slug mucus was used in making the glue). So far, it has been shown to adhere strongly to pig skin, tissue, organs, and cartilage. It has even been used to patch up a beating pig heart. It maintained a leak-free seal on the heart even after it inflated and deflated thousands of times. Better still, it is non-toxic, so it can be used almost anywhere on the human body, including internally.
It is hoped that the glue can be used to replace sutures and staples, as these methods can sometimes cause damage and can be hard to place in certain areas of the body and under some circumstances. It might also make a good replacement for some surgical tools, like the haemostat, which is used to control bleeding during surgeries (it has already been tested for this purpose using a rat’s liver).
The current plan is that this new substance will be produced in sheets that can be cut to size. However, they have also developed an injectable version of the adhesive that can be used for closing very deep wounds. After injection, the adhesive would be hardened with ultraviolet light, in the same way that dentists harden dental fillings.
As of now, the scientists are still applying for patents. But they will still need a commercial company to license the adhesive and put it through the human trials required for it to be put on the market.