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The biocompatible and degradable surgical tape can be easily and quickly applied to tissues and organs to seal tears and wounds.

Norbert Sparrow

February 23, 2022

4 Min Read
surgical tape and duct tape at work
A new MIT-designed surgical sticky tape can be applied quickly and easily, like duct tape to a pipe, to repair leaks and tears in the gastrointestinal tract and other tissues and organs.Image courtesy of MIT researchers

In some respects, it’s kind of amazing how much surgery can resemble plumbing repairs. It’s more complicated than that, of course — and the consequences of a botched job are infinitely more tragic when lives are at stake — but the mechanical nature of the operation is not dissimilar. That came to mind as I was reading about a biocompatible sticky patch developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technolgy (MIT) researchers that can be easily and quickly applied to tissues and organs to seal tears and wounds. An article on the MIT website describes it as a “kind of surgical duct tape.”

The surgical patch is sticky on one side and smooth on the other, just like, you know, duct tape. But it has some unique characteristics, one of which is that it is engineered to degrade once the wound has healed.

The MIT researchers have shown in various experiments that the surgical tape can be quickly applied to large tears and punctures in the colon, stomach, and intestines of various animal models. The adhesive binds strongly to tissues within seconds and holds for more than a month. It is also flexible, able to expand and contract with a functioning organ as it heals. Once an injury is fully healed, the patch gradually degrades without causing inflammation or sticking to surrounding tissues, explains Jennifer Chu in the MIT News article.

“Surgeons could use it as they use duct tape in the nonsurgical world,” said Hyunwoo Yuk, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “It doesn’t need any preparation or prior step. Just take it out, open, and use.”

Yuk, the study’s co-lead and co-corresponding author, and his colleagues have published their results in the journal Science Translational Medicine. 

When a single is better than a double

The new surgical tape builds on the team’s 2019 design for a double-sided tape. They soon discovered, however, that a double-sided tape was not practical in surgical applications. “It’s not common to have to stick two tissues together — organs need to be separate from each other,” explained MIT postdoc and the paper's lead author Jingjing Wu. “One suggestion was to use this sticky element to repair leaks and defects in the gut.”

Leaks and tears in the gastrointestinal tract typically are repaired with surgical sutures. Sewing the stitches requires a degree of expertise, however, and following surgery the sutures can cause scarring around the injury. The tissue between stitches can also tear, causing secondary leakages that could lead to sepsis, notes the MIT News article.

“We thought, maybe we could turn our sticky element into a product to repair gut leaks, similar to sealing pipes with duct tape,” Wu said. “That pushed us toward something more like single-sided tape.”

In the new surgical tape, the researchers replaced gelatin and chitosan, which was used in the adhesive of the double-sided tape, with a longer-lasting polyvinyl alcohol hydrogel. This construction kept the adhesive physically stable during the healing process. They also added a second, non-sticky top layer made of biodegradable polyurethane to prevent the patch from sticking to surrounding tissue.

To test the patch’s performance, the researchers placed it in a culture with human epithelial cells. The cells continued to grow, showing that the patch is biocompatible. When implanted under the skin of rats, the patch biodegraded after about 12 weeks, with no toxic effects, they said.

The researchers also applied the patch to defects in the animals’ colons and stomachs, and found it maintained a strong bond as the injuries fully healed. It also produced minimal scarring and inflammation compared with repairs made with conventional sutures.

Finally, the team applied the patch over colon defects in pigs, and observed that the animals continued to feed normally and experienced no adverse health effects.

Researchers explore startup opportunities

Taken together, the experiments suggest that the surgical patch could potentially safely repair gastrointestinal injuries, and could be applied just as easily as commercial duct tape. Yuk and Xuanhe Zhao, a professor of mechanical engineering and of civil and environmental engineering at MIT who helped author the paper, are further developing the adhesive through a new startup and hope to pursue FDA approval to test the patch in medical settings.

“There are millions of surgeries worldwide a year to repair gastrointestinal defects, and the leakage rate is up to 20% in high-risk patients,” Zhao said. “This tape could solve that problem, and potentially save thousands of lives.”

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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