Phil Messersmith's sticky situation: Desigining medical glue based on mussels' natural adhesive

Messersmith.jpgPhillip Messersmith designed a medical glue based on the blue mussel's natural adhesive. (Photo courtesy of WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)

Dr. Phil Messersmith, CLP faculty member and Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering, was a guest speaker on the March 7, 2012 segment of "Clever Apes," WBEZ's show that explores the Chicago area's rich scientific community, its quirky characters and the mind-bending questions they're out to answer.

Dr. Messersmith’s research focuses on biologically inspired materials and regenerative medicine.  He and a handful of researchers around the country are studying how the adhesives that mussels secrete and use to stick itself to rocks or boat hulls or wherever it feels like sticking can also be used in humans to repair tears in amniotic sacs, among other applications.  The reserachers have found that mussels form their connective threads and tacky pads through a kind of shellfish injection-molding process. The video below, provided by the Messersmith lab, captures an amazing example.) This stuff turns out to have some key qualities that a surgeon would envy. It starts as a liquid and solidifies quickly, it functions well under water and it’s sticky as hell.

That’s a big advantage over the medical glues out there that doctors use to attach or repair tissues. The safest ones are too weak. The strongest ones (basically, super glue) are toxic. Messersmith and his lab-mates at Northwestern University are using the fundamentals of the mussel glue to design their own version, which they demonstrated for us on some sausage casing.

Click here for the full article on the WBEZ website.

Mussel Attachment from WBEZ on Vimeo.