November 26, 2008

Worm ‘superglue’ may bind human joints

Sandcastle worms using their natural glue as a binder for their homes are a model for University of Utah researchers creating a synthetic version for humans

University of Utah bioengineers said they hope the synthetic version of this superglue can be used within the next few years to repair shattered bones in joints or the face, the university said in a news release.

You would glue some of the small pieces together, says Russell Stewart, associate professor of bioengineering and senior author of the study. When you break the top of a bone in a joint, those fractures are difficult to repair because if they are not aligned precisely, you end up with arthritis and the joint won't work anyway.

In lab tests using cow bone pieces from grocery stores, a prototype of the synthetic sea-worm glue performed 37 percent as well as commercial superglue, he said.

Stewart said he expects the synthetic glue will be tested on animals within a year or two, and tested and used on humans in five to 10 years.

Stewart said he sees the substance being used to glue together during the healing process.

If a doctor rebuilds a joint with pins and screws, generally weight is kept off that joint until it's healed, Stewart says. So our goal isn't to rebuild a weight-bearing joint with glue. It is to hold the pieces together in proper alignment until they heal.