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Home News Sea mussels used to help mend damaged hearts 

Sea mussels used to help mend damaged hearts 

Published on 18/02/2020

Researchers at the Swiss Materials Science and Technology Laboratories (Empa) have developed an innovative “glue” using proteins from sea mussels that can repair lesions in damaged heart tissue. 

The research team was looking for a “biocompatible tissue glue that would adhere to the beating heart while remaining elastic, even under the most challenging conditions”, says a news release from Empa. “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.” 

Researchers at Empa’s “Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles” lab in St Gallen were looking for a way to incorporate additional properties into gelatin, which “already comes very close to some of the natural properties of human connective tissue”, but which liquifies at body temperature.  

To do this, they turned to sea mussels. “The muscular foot of mussels excretes strongly adhesive threads, with which the mussel can adhere to all kinds of surfaces in water,” explains team leader Claudio 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,” says Empa. “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.” 

“The tissue adhesive can resist a pressure equivalent to human blood pressure,” says Empa researcher Kongchang Wei. The scientists have been able to confirm the “outstanding” tissue compatibility of the new adhesive in cell culture experiments and are now trying hard to advance the clinical application of the “mussel glue”.