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An artist's impression of the glue in action.

A surgical glue that quickly seals wounds without the need for staples or sutures could transform emergency medical treatments in Australia

Biomedical engineers from the University of Sydney and the United States have collaborated to develop a potentially life-saving surgical glue, which they have called MeTro.

The glue’s high elasticity makes it ideal for sealing wounds in body tissues that continually expand and relax – such as lungs, hearts and arteries – that are otherwise at risk of re-opening.

It also works on internal wounds that are often in hard-to-reach areas and have typically required staples or sutures, due to surrounding body fluid hampering the effectiveness of other sealants. 

MeTro sets in just 60 seconds once treated with UV light, and the technology has a built-in degrading enzyme which can be modified to determine how long the sealant lasts – from hours to months – in order to allow adequate time for the wound to heal.

So far in testing, the gel-like material has been able to quickly and successfully seal incisions in the arteries and lungs of rodents and the lungs of pigs, without the need for sutures and staples.

The results have been published this week in Science Translational Medicine, in a paper by the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Science, Boston’s Northeastern University, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, US.

Lead author of the study, Assistant Professor Nasim Annabi from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Northeastern University, oversaw the application of MeTro in a variety of clinical settings and conditions. 

“The beauty of the MeTro formulation is that, as soon as it comes in contact with tissue surfaces, it solidifies into a gel-like phase without running away,” she says.

“We then further stabilise it by curing it on-site with a short light-mediated crosslinking treatment. This allows the sealant to be very accurately placed and to tightly bond and interlock with structures on the tissue surface.”

The University of Sydney’s Professor Anthony Weiss describes the process as resembling that of silicone sealants used around bathroom and kitchen tiles.

“When you watch MeTro, you can see it act like a liquid, filling the gaps and conforming to the shape of the wound,” he says.

“It responds well biologically, and interfaces closely with human tissue to promote healing. The gel is easily stored and can be squirted directly onto a wound or cavity.

“The potential applications are powerful – from treating serious internal wounds at emergency sites such as following car accidents and in war zones, as well as improving hospital surgeries.”

For example, says Professor Weiss, when a human lung is punctured it collapses and requires surgery.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a material that you could literally squirt onto that lung … so you could start to breathe normally again.

“We’ve developed a material that can do just that.”

The material is based on a natural elastic protein, methacrylated tropoelastin – or MeTro for short.

“Unlike stitching or staples, MeTro promotes the healing of tissue, allows the site to recover and returns that tissue to normal function in just half the time,” says Professor Weiss.

The next stage for the technology is clinical testing, say the researchers.

If you want to know more, The University of Sydney has created an explainer on YouTube, which you can view here:

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