Surgical Technique Inspired By Parasitic Worm

Surgical Technique Inspired By Parasitic Worm

A new microneedle adhesive for skin grafts mimics the spiny-headed worm.

Ryan Gerhardt
  • 23 april 2013

One of the latest advancements in medicine technology tips its hat to the unlikeliest of creatures: a parasite.

While leeches used to be a widespread treatment for illnesses, researchers have recently drawn on another type of parasite (thankfully for inspiration only) to develop a new technique for surgically attaching skin grafts.

The spiny-headed worm, Pomphorhynchus laevis, is an intestinal parasite found in fish that has a very efficient means of latching on to its host. After burrowing into the host’s intestine, the spiny-headed worm inflates its proboscis in the intestinal tissue, further securing its hold. In an article recently published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers have mimicked this approach to better secure skin graft patches.


The surface of the patch is covered with cone-shaped microneedles that can stick to soft tissue with only minimal damage. The tips of the needles are then designed to swell when exposed to water, further anchoring the patches hold. Also, since the new patch doesn’t rely on chemical adhesives, which could cause an allergic reaction, and the needles are only a quarter the length of currently used surgical staples, removal and recovery are much smoother.

Yet, despite the seemingly less invasive technique, the researchers reported that the patch’s adhering power was more than three times stronger than surgical staples. Scott Somers, a professional at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, supported the patch in saying

Drawing on how parasitic worms attach to and feed on fish, [the researchers] have designed a way to close surgical wounds that appears better than anything currently available for clinical use.

In their current form, the patches appear to provide a superior technique for applying skin grafts to treat wounds, burns, and other injuries. In the future, the patches may also prove an effective means of holding incisions or wounds together – even inside the body if a dissolvable version can be created. The researchers are also looking at using the microneedle system as a means of delivering drugs, proteins, and other substances to the affected area.

In an odd turn, the parasites are giving back.

Nature Communications

Images via Science Magazine


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