Researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) may have found a solution to a slippery problem. They’ve developed a double-sided adhesive tape to use in surgical situations. The difference between this tape and previous versions is that this one stays put when it gets wet. Others slip and slide off before the wound heals. What makes this one work so well? The researchers studied one of God’s super-sticky designs in nature: spider silk.
Spider webs can trap insects in almost any kind of weather—including when it’s damp or outright wet out. That’s just one of the characteristics that makes spider silk fascinating to scientists. (See “Secrets of Spider Silk” for more.) It’s also known for its incredible strength and versatility.
The MIT team studied the way that spider webs wick away moisture from prey even as it crawls across the strands. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the scientists discovered that spider webs use charged polysaccharides to do this. Polysaccharides are molecules of carbohydrates, often with enzymes attached to them. This fascinating creation from the arachnid can draw liquid away from its surface just before the sticky part binds to the subject it traps.
Back at the lab, the MIT team worked to produce their own synthetic polysaccharides. They mimic the natural ones made by spiders. They used some known technology too—such as the material used inside baby diapers to absorb lots of liquid. Another chemical forms the sticky bond to hold the new bandage to the patient’s wound after the moisture is quickly removed.
Study author Xuanhe Zhao is a mechanical engineer at MIT. He says the tape is favorable to typical sutures (also known as “stitches” or “staples”) used to close wounds. Those methods put pressure on delicate tissues and can exacerbate pain in healing. They also create a series of additional wounds that can invite infection and leave more scarring.
The team has experimented with success using the tape in pigs. It has worked to repair skin and internal organ incisions. It has not yet been tried on humans.
(MIT engineers have devised a double-sided adhesive that can seal tissues together. Felice Frankel, Christine Daniloff, MIT)