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A Slug May Have Inspired This Latest Medical Breakthrough

Slugs may have been behind one of the latest medical breakthroughs. Inspired by the defensive mucus secreted by the Dusky Arion slug, materials scientist Jianyu Li of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and his colleagues developed a biological adhesive believed to be best-suited for surgery and wound healing.


Nigel Cattlin/Visuals Unlimited/Getty Images

Li said that there is a challenge in the biomedical field to develop an adhesive that would be both flexible and sticky so that it can be used for a variety of purposes such as patching a beating heart or bleeding wound and repairing a cartilage.

Current medical adhesives are either flexible or sticky but none have the properties of both, which is why Li and his colleagues got inspired by how the defensive mucus of the Dusky Arion slug works.

“The defensive mucus turns out to be very sticky and also very strong and highly stretchable. That kind of inspired us,” Li told


Jianyu Li, Adam D. Celiz, David J. Mooney/Science

Using a compound secreted by algae with similar properties as that of the slug mucus, Li’s team developed a tough patch made almost entirely of water (90%), which has the sticky characteristic of super glue, elasticity of a rubber band, ability to stick even on wet surfaces, and is, more importantly, non-toxic.

This adhesive had been tested with animal subjects and found to stick firmly on bloody pig skin and even a beating pig heart. The material had been successfully used in patching holes in rat livers and even in sealing a hole in a pig’s heart.

During the testing period, the material also did not cause any damage to human cells and had resulted in less inflammation compared with other materials when used on rats.



It is important to note that the patch Li and colleagues initially developed has to go through several years of testing before it can be made available for human use.

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