Let's stick together

Avoiding staples and stitches during surgery might now be possible thanks to the invention of a biocompatible adhesive that can glue tissues together. The highly elastic surgical glue - MeTro - was developed by biomedical engineers from the University of Sydney, Australia, and colleagues in the US.

MeTro uses natural elastic protein technologies developed by Sydney's Anthony Weiss and combines them with light sensitizers developed at Harvard Medical School by Ali Khademhosseini. Lead author, Nasim Annabi of Northeastern University, USA, explains that the beauty of the MeTro formulation is that, "as soon as it comes in contact with tissue surfaces, it solidifies into a gel-like phase without running away." The surgical team can then cure it on site with a short burst of light to generate crosslinks. Ultimately, the surgical glue can be placed very precisely in cut, tear or injury to a tissue and then tightly bond the tissue surfaces together so that they heal with minimal scarring and no need for subsequent removal of sutures or staples. [Annabi et al.,Sci Translat Med (2017); DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aai7466]

Weiss describes the glue bluntly as being not dissimilar to the flexible sealants used in making the gapes between walls and sinks and bathtubs watertight. "When you watch MeTro, you can see it act like a liquid, filling the gaps and conforming to the shape of the wound," he explains. "It responds well biologically, and interfaces closely with human tissue to promote healing. The gel is easily stored and can be squirted directly on to a wound or cavity."

The material has great potential for treating serious internal wounds even at the scene of a car accident or in a war zone as well as in improving hospital surgery. The material remains stable in the wound for the length of time a wound might normally need to heal when sutured or stapled. It subsequently degrades into non-toxic waste products which the body disposes of naturally. "We have shown MeTro works in a range of different settings and solves problems other available sealants cannot," Weiss says. "We're now ready to transfer our research into testing on people. I hope MeTro will soon be used in the clinic, saving human lives." The material will be commercialized by Elastagen Pty Ltd.

David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".