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A natural glue that sticks marine mussels to boat hulls and rocks has been used as inspiration for a medical adhesive for repairing amniotic sacs (also known as the foetal membrane) that prematurely rupture or are damaged by surgery.

Last month we reported work carried out by Phillip Messersmith’s team at Northwestern University in the US, where a mimic of the natural protein that sticks marine mussels to surfaces had been used as a medical adhesive in a new type of treatment for type 1 diabetes.

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Now, the group and their collaborators in Zurich and Leuven have published work describing using their glue to seal holes in the amniotic sacs that protect unborn babies in their mothers’ wombs. Premature rupturing of amniotic sacs is a potentially serious complication during pregnancy and in the aftermath of prenatal foetal surgery, say the researchers in their paper. There are techniques already in use to seal these ruptures, but they all have problems and/or unwanted side effects. So, Messersmith’s team have decided to investigate using their glue for this important application.

So far, they have tried the glue on the surface of moist, intact amniotic sacs and tested its toxicity in vitro on amniotic sac cells – finding that it bonded efficiently and was non-toxic. They have also spread the glue over sac defects, achieving leak-free closure that can withstand stretching in vitro. Next the team will more fully evaluate the mechanical strength of repaired defects and are planning in vivo preclinical studies to evaluate the efficacy of the approach.

Nina Notman

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