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24. Feb 2020 | Coatings Technologies

Sticky proteins from sea mussels: biocompatible tissue for damaged heart muscles

Empa researchers are developing a novel tissue adhesive inspired by nature, which is able to repair lesions in muscle tissue.

Different sea shells as a symbol.

In the sea silk, several proteins interact tightly. Image source: Annalise Batista – Pixabay. (symbol image)

The mussel's foot holds on to the surface, as its glands produce fine threads which, unlike spider silk, remain firm under water and yet highly elastic. Two proteins, mfp-3 and the particularly sulfurous mfp-6, are components of this sea silk. As structural proteins, they are especially interesting for biomedical research because of their fascinating mechanical properties and their biocompatibility.

Biocompatible tissue glue

Researchers from Empa's "Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles" lab in St. Gallen have made use of these properties. Claudio Toncelli's team was looking for a biocompatible tissue glue that would adhere to the beating heart while remaining elastic, even under the most challenging conditions. After all, if heart muscle tissue is damaged, for instance by a heart attack or a congenital disorder, the wounds must be able to heal, even though the muscle continues to contract.

Stable connection between the wound surfaces

"The muscular foot of mussels excretes strongly adhesive threads, with which the mussel can adhere to all kinds of surfaces in water," explains Toncelli. In this sea silk, several proteins interact tightly. Inspired by nature's solution for dealing with turbulent forces under water, the researchers equipped gelatin biopolymers with functional chemical units similar to those of the sea silk proteins mfp-3 and mfp-6. As soon as the gelatin sea silk gel makes contact with tissue, the structural proteins cross-link with each other and ensure a stable connection between the wound surfaces.

Outstanding tissue compatibility

The researchers have already investigated how well the novel hydrogel actually adheres in lab experiments that are usually used to define technical standards for so-called bursting strength. "The tissue adhesive can resist a pressure equivalent to human blood pressure," says Empa researcher Kongchang Wei. The scientists were also able to confirm the outstanding tissue compatibility of the new adhesive in cell culture experiments. They are now trying hard to advance the clinical application of the "mussel glue".

More information can be found on the Empa-Website.

Image source: Pixabay.

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