Worm Glue May Hold the Key to Fixing Broken Bones

By Melissa Lafsky | November 25, 2008 6:34 pm

boneDespite all the amazing advances in recent medicine, there are still plenty of simple problems lacking a clear solution. For one, we still haven’t found a great way to heal fractures in the top of joint bones—any mistake in alignment when the bone is being repaired, and you wind up with a useless joint—not to mention terrible arthritis.

Enter a team of bioengineers at the University of Utah, who had an ingenious idea: If sandcastle worms can produce natural glue strong enough to hold together a tiny sand-home against the intertidal surf, why not copy that glue and use it on broken knees?

Now, the first generation prototype of the so-called worm glue has been tested on cow bone pieces (from groceries, meaning the cows were already deceased) and has performed 37 percent as well as commercial superglue. The results will be published online in next week’s edition of Macromolecular Biosciences. Lead author Russell Stewart projects that they’ll be testing the glue on live animals within a year or two, and on humans within the next five to 10 years. While the glue won’t be able to fix your broken femur, it could be very useful for small bone fragments in fractured knees, wrists, elbows, and ankles, as well as the face and skull.

And best of all, the glue can carry drugs, meaning it could be used to deliver pain killers, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or even stem cells to sites where bone fragments are glued. Just try finding a bottle of Elmer’s that can do that.

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