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Skip the sutures. ‘Game-changing ‘superglue’ could heal serious knee injuries

New hydrogel adheres firmly to cartilage and meniscus

Are you plagued by joint problems? A groundbreaking new superglue-style material could help revolutionize treatments such as knee surgery by strongly adhering to the injured body part, and then conveying repair cells or drugs in order to stimulate tissue regeneration. Developed by two groups of researchers at Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the new hydrogel material — which is composed of almost 90 percent water — naturally adheres to soft tissue such as cartilage or the meniscus.

“In cases of cartilage injury, it is common for the surgeons to discover that a hole is present in the cartilage itself,” Dominique Pioletti, associate professor in EPFL’s Laboratory of Biomechanical Orthopedics, told Digital Trends. “If a piece of cartilage has been torn out — for example, following a severe injury of the leg — to repair it, you would need to place a substance, such as a scaffold, in the defect. The fixation of this material to the treated tissue is usually difficult and relies on a mechanical system such as stitches. This is a paradox because it means that you must further hurt the tissue you are supposed to be treating.”

That’s not the only problem. Suturing a soft tissue such as a meniscus can be difficult when the suture is placed on a load-bearing part of the tissue. Having a material that sticks by itself to the tissue is therefore an interesting and potentially game-changing alternative.

EPFL

The hydrogel developed by the researchers is a massive 10 times more adhesive than the other bioadhesives developed for this task. Its high water content also makes it similar in composition to the natural tissue that it is designed to heal. “This hydrogel presents the advantages of being mostly composed of water, which facilitates its injection through a small needle and will allow us to load it with cells or drugs,” Pioletti said. “Cells or drugs can therefore be maintained locally where the hydrogel is applied.”

At present, the researchers have developed the gel itself. The next part of the study will involve combining the developed hydrogel with the necessary repair cells and other drugs to help carry out repairs. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before clinical trials can be carried out.

A paper describing the research, titled “Composite Double-Network Hydrogels To Improve Adhesion on Biological Surfaces,” was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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