We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

The Surprise Peptide

Researchers have accidentally found a promising way to stop bleeding

In 2001, Rutledge Ellis-Behnke, PhD ‘03, a research scientist in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, was doing surgical research on hamster brains. He and his colleagues were using a liquid made of protein fragments known as peptides to encourage the regeneration of neural tissue, a prospective treatment for stroke. In early experiments, the technique appeared to promote the strengthening and rewiring of traumatized neural regions in rodents. But in the lab one day, something seemed awry.

Rutledge Ellis-Behnke (left) and Gerald Schneider show off a transected liver that has been treated with their gel.

“I kept saying to Rutledge, ‘Check the animal. He’s not bleeding. Is he dead?’” says Gerald Schneider, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences. “But no, he was still alive.”

This story is part of the January/February 2007 Issue of the MIT News magazine
See the rest of the issue

In that moment of serendipity, Ellis-Behnke saw that the peptide liquid had a second, equally profound effect: it halted bleeding almost immediately.

Through a string of experiments at the University of Hong Kong, he discovered that when the liquid is applied to a surgical wound in a mouse or hamster, the peptides self-assemble into a nanoscale barrier that seals the wound. Once the wound heals, the nontoxic gel is broken down into molecules that cells use for tissue repair, Ellis-Behnke explains.

The researchers (including Kwok-Fai So, PhD ‘77, head of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Hong Kong) published the results in October 2006 in the journal Nanomedicine, noting that this was the first time nanotechnology had been used to halt bleeding in damaged blood vessels without clotting. “We have found a way to stop bleeding in less than 15 seconds that could revolutionize bleeding control,” Ellis-Behnke says.

Ellis-Behnke and So are now carrying out experiments on pigs. They hope that their gel will prove useful for humans and might replace the saline, clamps, and sponges used during surgery, cutting down on operating-room time spent stanching bleeding. Peptides could also be applied to battlefield wounds or used as what the researchers call a “molecular band-aid” in the brains of stroke patients.

The researchers are also pushing ahead with their work on regenerating neural networks. That’s led to 20-hour days for Ellis-Behnke, not to mention exhausting shuttling from his home in Canton, MA, to China. But there’s an upside: along the way, his fertile mind has absorbed talents like microsurgery (“It’s basically plumbing”) and speaking Chinese (“It’s mostly the taxi-restaurant variety”).

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
Next in MIT News
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Print Subscription.
  • Print Subscription {! insider.prices.print_only !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six print issues per year plus The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Print magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.