Sea Worm Inspires Novel Bone Glue

In study, water-soluble adhesive shows potential for repairing smashed bones

MONDAY, AUG. 17, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- The natural glue a sea creature uses to build its home has offered scientists a new way to repair bones shattered in car crashes and other accidents.

The inch-long sandcastle worm builds a shelter in the surf by secreting a glue that it uses to hold together bits of sand and sea shells. Researchers reported at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society that they have duplicated the glue, creating a much-desired medical adhesive.

The traditional method of repairing shattered bones is to use connectors such as nails, pins and metal screws for support until the bones can bear weight. But it can be incredibly difficult to align small bone fragments with screws and wires, said Russell Stewart, a bioengineer at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

A medical adhesive would provide a much better alternative. Stewart's challenge was to devise a water-based adhesive that is insoluble in wet environments and able to bond to wet objects.

"We recognized that the mechanism used by the sandcastle worm is really a perfect vehicle for producing an underwater adhesive," Stewart said. "This glue, just like the worm's glue, is a fluid material that, although it doesn't mix with water, is water soluble."

The new synthetic glue has passed toxicity studies in cell culture, said Stewart. It is at least as strong as Super Glue and twice as strong as the natural adhesive it mimics, he said.

Stewart has begun pilot studies in which the adhesive would also deliver medicines such as antibiotics to the fracture site.

"We are very optimistic about this synthetic glue," he said. "Biocompatibility is one of the major challenges of creating an adhesive like this. Anytime you put something synthetic into the body, there's a chance the body will respond to it and damage the surrounding tissue. That's something we will monitor, but we've seen no indication right now that it will be a problem."

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more information on broken bones here.

Dennis Thompson

Dennis Thompson

Published on August 17, 2009

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