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Porcupine’s quills inspire new types of adhesives, needles

Drawing inspiration from the mechanical features of porcupine quills, researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston are developing less-painful needles for injections and adhesives that can bind internal tissues more securely.

Researchers studied the North American porcupine, which has about 30,000 barbed quills measuring several centimeters long. The tip of each quill is covered in microscopic barbs that allow the quills to penetrate tissue with very little force and make them quick difficult to remove. After determining how the quills achieve this unique combination, researchers designed plastic quill replicas that closely mimic the penetration force and gripping power of natural quills. Their work is described in a paper (subscription required) published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Michael Longaker, MD, a pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Stanford, commented on the findings in an MIT release:

The discovery that barbed quills require so little force to penetrate skin is both unexpected and fascinating, says [Longaker]. Devices that mimic the quills could be very helpful in securing tissue during and after surgery, he says. “That combination of ‘easy to get in’ and ‘difficult to pull out’ would be really appealing,” says Longaker, who was not part of the research team

Researchers are now working on developing quill-inspired adhesives from biodegradable materials.

Previously: Researchers turn to spider webs to design improved medical tape, Researchers look to gecko’s ultra-sticky feet to improve adhesion of bandages, sutures when wet and Beetle wing design inspires ultra-sensitive electronic skin
Photo by Wagner T. Cassimiro

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