Hello,

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

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

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Finer Point

Porcupine quill study could lead to better needles and surgical adhesives

Anyone unfortunate enough to encounter a porcupine’s quills knows that they go in much more easily than they come out. Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital now hope to exploit the porcupine quill’s unique properties to develop new types of medical devices.

porcupine quill

In a recent study, the researchers characterized, for the first time, the forces needed for quills to enter and exit the skin. They also created artificial devices with the same mechanical features as the quills.

Dan Cziczo
This story is part of the March/April 2013 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

“With further research, biomaterials modeled on porcupine quills could provide a new class of adhesive materials,” says Institute Professor Robert Langer, a senior author on the study. The researchers say that such adhesives would be very useful for patients who have undergone gastric or intestinal surgery. These surgical incisions are now sealed with sutures or staples, which can leak and cause complications.

The team studied the North American porcupine, which fends off predators with about 30,000 barbed quills. “Evolution is the best problem-solver,” says study author Jeffrey Karp, codirector of the Brigham’s Center for Regenerative Therapeutics. The quills’ features could inspire not just stickier adhesives but less painful needles.

Each quill is several centimeters long, and the four millimeters at the tip are covered with microscopic barbs (shown at left). The researchers showed that the barbs localize penetration forces, allowing the quills to tear through tissue fibers very easily—just as a serrated knife cuts through tomato skin far more cleanly than a straight-edged knife. When the quill is pulled out, the barbs act like anchors that keep it in place. After creating a prototype adhesive patch with an array of barbed quills on one side, the researchers found that it required 30 times more energy to remove than a patch that had quills without barbs.

Langer and Karp introduced the concept of gecko-inspired medical bandages in 2008; however, “these require a reactive glue to adhere to wet tissues, while porcupine-quill-inspired adhesives attach to tissues beautifully without requiring the use of reactive chemistry,” Karp says. “They are extremely versatile and potentially universal in their application.”

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Next in MIT News
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
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.