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Bone glue created from adhesive produced by underwater worm

By James G. Robertson, National Geographic Digital Media Scientists at the University of Utah have developed an adhesive with many possible medical uses, including repairing bone fractures, based on a glue produced by the sandcastle worm. The announcement was made at the August meeting of the American Chemical Society. The worm creates a complex water-based...

By James G. Robertson, National Geographic Digital Media

Scientists at the University of Utah have developed an adhesive with many possible medical uses, including repairing bone fractures, based on a glue produced by the sandcastle worm. The announcement was made at the August meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The worm creates a complex water-based mortar to create a home from grains of sand and bits of shell. The adhesive can stick to wet surfaces and doesn’t dissolve at certain pH levels, making it ideal for medical applications. Once it has done its job, it can become water-soluble and dissolve.

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Photo: A sandcastle worm with beads of its homemade adhesive. Photo by Fred Hayes

The traditional method of healing broken bones by using metal nails, pins and screws is difficult with smaller bones, says Russel Stewart, one of the creators of the synthetic sandcastle worm glue, and scientists have been looking for a suitable adhesive substitute for decades.

“The idea of using natural adhesives in medicine is an old one dating back to the first investigations of mussel adhesives in the 1980s. Yet almost 30 years later there are no adhesives based on natural adhesives used in the clinic,” said Stewart in a statement.

Tests are also being done to use the adhesive to deliver other substances to the fracture site, such as antibiotics, pain relievers or molecules that help the fracture heal faster.

So far, the glue has passed toxicity tests and is at least as strong as Super Glue and twice the strength of the sandcastle worm’s formula.

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn