Wound closure during surgery is of special interest to Christoph Nabzdyk, M.D., a Mayo Clinic critical care specialist and anesthesiologist. He works with a team of researchers at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop ways to heal trauma without creating new trauma in the form of stitches or staples. Previously Dr. Nabzdyk and the MIT team reported on a proof-of-concept surgical patch inspired by barnacles. Their newest advance is a patch inspired by duct tape, that humble fix-all for everything from leaking pipes to lunar modules.

This patch consists of a liner, a nonadhesive layer and a layer designed to remove the moisture of the body. A surgeon would hold the patch by the liner, place it over the wound or in a wound, and gently press the patch onto the tissue. The chemical composition of the patch is such that when it touches the wet tissue, the patch removes surface water by hydration and swelling. Simultaneously, hydrogen bonds and electrostatic interactions of the adhesive layer cause initial bonding of the patch to the tissue. The surgeon then removes the liner and the area around the wound remains undamaged. Subsequently, covalent bonds between chemical groups of the adhesive patch layer and the tissue surface result in even stronger bonding within minutes, creating an air and liquid tight seal. If needed, the patch can be removed and a new patch applied to the same site again.

Introduced in a 2019 Nature paper, the researchers now provide preclinical data in two models of gastrointestinal wound closure. Published in Science Translational Medicine today, the team found that the patch sealed various gastrointestinal injuries without the need for stitches or staples while showing good short-term biocompatibility. They also identified options for further refinement, such as patching wounds that are complex or geometrically difficult to cover, and improving the experience of placing the patch. They also plan to examine how the immune system responds to the patch long-term.

In addition to co-senior author Dr. Nabzdyk, other Mayo authors on the most recent paper are Tiffany Sarrafian and Leigh Griffiths, Ph.D. Authors from Massachusetts Institute of Technology are Hyunwoo Yuk, Ph.D., Jingjing Wu, Ph.D., and Professor Xuanhe Zhao. Author Chuanfei Guo is affiliated with Southern University of Science and Technology in China. For funding information and disclosures, read the paper at Science Translational Medicine.

— Sara Tiner, Feb. 2, 2022