Cambridge, Mass. (CBS HARTFORD) — Engineers are creating medical needles and adhesives that emulate barb-tipped porcupine quills.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers published their progress in imitating nature in the December edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), according to Medical News Today. The team studied the North American porcupine’s 30,000 barbed quills for inspiration. The individual quills are several centimeters long and end in four-millimeter tips that fascinated the team.

“We believe that evolution is the best problem-solver,” Jeffrey M. Karp, the other co-senior author, and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told Medical News Today.

“With further research, biomaterials modeled based on porcupine quills could provide a new class of adhesive materials,” he added.

The team has created artificial needles that emulate the ease of penetration that the porcupine quills have in both entering and exiting skin. They hope to create needles that are less painful to inject into human skin, and could possibly be used to bind internal tissue more securely. The team found that the porcupine quills with barbs required 60 to 70 percent less force to penetrate muscle tissue than those without them.

The research also showed that the medical world’s current adhesives could be improved for patients undergoing gastric bypasses or other types of surgery where incisions need to be sealed with staples, which have the risk of leaking. Although such incisions can sometimes be closed with medical superglue, such substances can be toxic or cause inflammation, Karp explained.

This isn’t Karp’s first foray into nature imitation. In 2008, Karp introduced the idea of a gecko-inspired medical bandage.

The team is currently trying to discover how to create biodegradable adhesives based off of the porcupine quill. They would like to create a natural adhesive that would break down inside the body without harm.

The National Institute of Health, the American Heart Association, the National Science Foundation and the National Research Foundation of Korea helped pay for the study.


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