With solder science solidifying and the laser technology tuning up, proponents of tissue welding are upbeat. MGH’s Anderson, for one, believes he and his colleagues are heading toward a reality where eventually “there would be an off-the-shelf, user-friendly system for tissue repair that looks a lot like what they do on Star Trek.” But before technology and science fiction can meld, tissue welding faces a daunting challenge; it still must find an initial application to get the technology on the shelf and open up the market.
And the clock is ticking. Some proponents worry that if welding doesn’t become commercially viable within the next few years, potential niches will be filled by a new generation of biological and synthetic tissue glues. Surgical adhesives and sealants-some synthetic-based cousins of Superglue and others made of biological materials-promise many of the same benefits as tissue welding. While no adhesive meets all the criteria for an ideal tissue sealant, glues are beginning to gain regulatory approval for limited applications such as the closure of small skin wounds or incisions. And adhesive developers are already working on stronger and more biocompatible products.