SALT LAKE CITY Sandcastle worms live in intertidal surf, building sturdy tube-shaped homes from bits of sand and shell and their own natural glue. University of Utah bioengineers have made a synthetic version of this seaworthy superglue, and hope it will be used within several years to repair shattered bones in knees, other joints and the face.
"You would glue some of the small pieces together," says Russell Stewart, associate professor of bioengineering and senior author of the study to be published online within a week in the journal Macromolecular Biosciences.
"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. So it's very important to get those pieces aligned as well as possible."
In lab tests using cow bone pieces from groceries, the synthetic sea-worm glue a first-generation prototype performed 37 percent as well as commercial superglue.
Stewart expects the synthetic worm glue will be tested on animals within a year or two, and will be tested and used on humans in five to 10 years.
The synthetic sandcastle worm glue would not be used to repair large fractures such as major leg and arm bones, for which rods, pins and screws now are used. But Stewart envisions that it might be used for gluing together small bone fragments in fractured knees, wrists, elbows, ankles and other joints, and also the face and skull.
"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. We see gluing the small fragments back into the joint."
In their study, Stewart and colleagues wrote: "It is especially difficult to maintain alignment of small bone fragments b
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University of Utah