Nature is one of the biggest sources of inspiration for scientists trying to come up with novel ideas to improve modern medicine. Researchers working in the field of bio-inspired engineering have studied jellyfish, sea worms, and even spiders to design innovative medical products to use in hospitals.

Taking their cue from mussels, engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, are designing glues that will be effective in sealing up tears surgeons make in the amniotic sac when operating on a baby in the womb.

Since the amniotic membrane does not heal like regular skin, small surgical tears can lead to larger ruptures with the amniotic fluid leaking out. Those ruptures can increase the risk of premature labor and delivery.

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So far scientists have not come up with an adhesive that can effectively bind the watery fetal membrane, so surgeons mostly recommend weeks of bed rest to women who have had fetal surgery, said Sally Winkler, a member of the research team.

She explained that her group decided to study how the mussel can attach itself to rocks underwater by secreting a protein called byssal thread. Based on the chemical and mechanical properties of the byssal thread, the research group is developing synthetic glues to patch up the fetal membrane.

The team has so far tested the glues on egg membranes, chicken skin, and fetal membranes, said Winkler, adding the team has funding to test it in rabbit models soon.

“As material engineers, we are excited by the possibility of developing biomaterials for surgical use,” she said. “We hope that having a glue that is very safe and effective at sealing stuff in the body could have implications for other medical needs too.”

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