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Porcupine Quill Could Foster New Medical Devices

TUESDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Studying porcupine quills could lead to the development of new medical devices, researchers say.

A team at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston discovered how North American porcupine quills easily puncture tissue and why, once stuck in flesh, they are difficult to remove. They did this using natural porcupine quills and replica-molded synthetic polyurethane quills.

They said their findings could lead to the creation of needles that effortlessly penetrate skin and resist buckling, as well as new types of medical adhesives.

The study was published online Dec. 10 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A porcupine's quills are its key defense mechanism. Each of the approximately 30,000 quills on a porcupine's back contains a conical black tip studded with a layer of microscopic, backward-facing barbs and a cylindrical base with a smooth, scale-like structure, the researchers said.

The researchers discovered that the quill's geometry and barbs enable it to penetrate tissue with ease. Once in the tissue, the barbs keep it in place.

"By carefully removing the barbs from the quill, we discovered that in addition to their physical features, the location of barbs on the quill played a major role in minimizing penetration forces and maximizing the work needed to yank them from the tissue," study first author Woo Kyung Cho, of the department of medicine's biomedical engineering division, said in a hospital news release.

In order to assess potential medical uses, the researchers developed plastic quill replicas that closely mimic the penetration force and gripping power of natural quills.

The authors pointed out that other creatures in nature have inspired bioengineered devices. For instance, geckos inspired the development of tape-based adhesives, they said.

More information

The San Diego Zoo has more about porcupines.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Brigham and Women's Hospital, news release, Dec. 10, 2012

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