Apr 09, 2019 01:59 PM EDT
Anyone that knows anything about porcupines knows that its best to stay far away from them. Porcupines are armed with roughly 30,000 razor sharp quills and are not afraid to use them at the slightest inkling of danger to their person. But researchers are hoping to take the natural design of the quills and implement it into modern medicine, specifically, the closure of wounds. The most commonly used method today is your average staple. While staples are extremely effective in closing wounds, they also pose various threats in the sense of excessive damage to the patient and the likelihood for infection.
"We've been using sutures and staples for decades, and they've been incredibly useful," says Jeff Karp, a bioengineer at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "But there are challenges in terms of placing them for minimally invasive procedures."
Although staples are quicker than suturing wounds-which requires needle and thread, the staples that are used in the medical field today are basically outdated. They can cause considerable damage when both pushed through the skin and especially when curved under the skin to hold themselves in place. With the design of the porcupine's barb-like quill, researchers believe that the new staples would essentially benefit surgeries, wound closure and the healing of those wounds as they would prove to be far less painful and much safer than the current staples.
The real beauty behind the design of the porcupine's quills are the microscopic barbs at the tip of each one. Once they have pierced the skin, these barbs make the quills nearly impossible to be removed. However, minimum damage is caused upon insertion as the barbed design allows for a smooth entrance. These are a couple of features that can surely help revolutionize the modern day medical staple. A new type of medical staple, Karp figures, that had two barbed tips would require much less effort to place and the gripping power of the barbs would hold it in position without needing to bend the staple. But that isn't the best feature of these conceptual staples, Karp says he anticipates making the new staples out of biodegradable material so they will fully dissolve over time without having to be removed.
"Nature has designs that humans can't achieve yet, at least at large scale," Karp says. "Large-scale manufacturing is a human problem." But if the right technologies become available, he estimates that human testing of porcupine quill-inspired tools could begin in two to five years. "This could be an enabler for smaller incisions to be made in a large number of surgeries," Karp says. That would be good news for both surgeons and patients.
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