Inventing a Surgical Adhesive Created by Slugs

Slugs are the creepy gastropod relative to the snail which don’t carry their home on their back. Living where it is very dry, I have only seen a couple of slugs in my lifetime. I’m sure you know they dissolve if you sprinkle them with salt – ick. Scientists have been studying the European slug because of the sticky mucus it releases when it senses fear.

The Arion subfuscus can glue itself to wet surfaces very well and remain flexible. Researchers have been looking for a better adhesive for surgery and wound healing, something that could repair an organ without the damage of stitches or staples and preventing air/fluid leaks. A new study in Science shows the potential that material inspired by slug slime has.

The mucus the slug produces as a defensive mechanism is very sticky, yet strong and very flexible. Scientists are using the slug slime as a starting point to create a new adhesive as sticky as super glue, stretchy like a rubber band, effective on wet surfaces, and non-toxic to humans.

Slug slime contains a chemical called a primary amine which is positively charged. Tissues and cells are negatively charged and the two surfaces attract like magnets. The material can also bond chemically to tissue, attaching itself to the surface proteins.

The result is a gelatin-like patch made of algae similar to slug mucus. In the lab, the patches stuck to bloody pig skin, patched holes in rat livers, and an injectable version sealed a hole in a pig heart. Tests on human cells didn’t cause any damage. The adhesive also did not result in as much inflammation as other materials used.

An adhesive like this could one day be used to patch an infant’s heart or repair cartilage, which is impossible to suture. Years of testing are needed before it would be available to use on humans. In the meantime, scientists are working on a version that will biodegrade into the body after an organ has healed.
Bichell, Rae Ellen. “Slug Slime Inspires Scientists To Invent Sticky Surgical Glue.” Health Shots. NPR, 27 Jul 2017. Web. 30 Jul 2017.

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