Brand new glue
Despite many advances in fetal surgery over the past 35 years, rupture of the amniotic sac remains a constant risk from the lifesaving procedure. During this operation, an incision must be made in the membrane of the sac, which can leak amniotic fluid and result in premature delivery. But Phillip Messersmith, professor of bioengineering and materials science and engineering, hopes to make this procedure safer. Inspired by the underwater glues of the marine mussel, he is developing new adhesives to seal incisions made during fetal surgery. To anchor itself to rocks in the ocean, a mussel secretes proteins underwater that form tethers and a sticky, quick-setting glue; Messersmith has replicated the strength of this glue by using L-DOPA, an amino acid key to mussel adhesives. Next up: future generations of surgical adhesives, which he aims to strengthen with additional amino acids and metal ions, similar to those found in a mussel’s glue.