Scientists are now looking for inspiration in nature to further improve patients' healing process. The future might see doctors using porcupine quills as surgical staples.
To stitch up a physical wound, doctors usually use staples and sutures, methods that haven't changed decades ago. Although they are effective, staples have some minor side effects researchers would like to eradicate.
Current surgical staples are often used by surgeons because it's faster than using a needle and thread. However, staples, when bent inside the tissue, cause more damage, and the opening of the puncture can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
That's why currently, scientists and surgeons alike are looking for newer and safer ways to stitch up wounds using minimally invasive procedures.
Microstructured Porcupine Barbs
Scientists are now looking at porcupines, whose self-defense mechanism is by slapping a predator with its spiky tail filled with sharp quills. Although the quills are not poisonous, they're incredibly sharper than a hypodermic needle, and each tip has microstructured barbs.
These barbs are so much nuisance to predators, as they are backward-facing. Pulling the quill in the opposite direction flares out the barbs, making the effort harder and more painful.
Animal predators who make the mistake of disturbing porcupines usually learn this lesson the hard way. There are many times when researchers find embedded porcupine quills in a deceased mountain lion's snout.
Surgical Quill Staple
According to Jeff Karp, a bioengineer at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, he and his team are currently looking to replicate the porcupine's barbs to create a much safer and less-invasive surgical staple.
Karp and his team did a series of experiments to measure the similarities between a barbed and barbless quill. They've discovered that a barbed quill has more functions than that without, since barbed quills can deliver easier penetration in the flesh with an increased pullout force.
Results also show that barbed quills do less damage in the tissue because of its ability to create a perfect hole. Unlike a surgical staple, barbed quills have minimal damage on tissue. It also does not need to be bent because of the barbs' gripping power.
New Medical Staple
Karp is now looking forward to creating a prototype of a new medical staple using the technology inspired by porcupine barbs. Karp is determined to make the staple out of a biodegradable material in order to eliminate the need for a follow-up checkup because the staples would just dissolve over time.
He's positive that if the right technologies become available within the next two to five years, they would be able to make the prototype.
The findings of this study is published at The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.