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Inspired by Slugs, Engineered by Science | An Interview with Ben Freedman

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The biomedical field has been working to develop the next generation medical-grade adhesive- a feat that has proven to be extremely challenging. Rather than reinventing the wheel, researchers study the way nature behaves and how they can engineer solutions that are inspired from the wealth of knowledge nature has to offer.

A team of researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University is working towards developing the next generation medical adhesive technology the field has been looking for. This team consists of many people, including Prof. David Mooney, Oktay Uzun, Jianyu Li and Ben Freedman, to name a few. MiND had the pleasure of speaking with Wyss Institute post-doctoral fellow, Ben Freedman about the team’s work.

Ben explained that current medical grade adhesives cannot withstand high deformations and do not adhere well to wet and dynamic surfaces such as a beating heart. This new technology comes from the need for an adhesive that is less rigid and more malleable than those available.

Jianyu Li, who was a Wyss post -doctoral fellow at the time, published a paper about a project being worked on in the Mooney Lab that incorporated recent innovations in hydrogel technology to create a ‘tough gel’. Tough gel is unlike any traditional hydrogel in its strength and durability, as it can stretch up to 20 times its initial size without breakage.

It’s common in science to find answers in nature. Researchers are challenged to think about how they design materials as there are existing things that behave in a similar way and can be used for inspiration. This is especially true at The Wyss Institute, where it is encouraged to incorporate and generate ideas from different fields and cross boundaries.

There are no slug components in this technology. The adhesive is made up of two elements- the tough gel and an adhesive layer. There are lots of interesting applications for this adhesive and more to still be explored. “We’ve merely scratched the surface on this novel technology. We’ve demonstrated that these can have applications to many different tissues and there are more avenues to venture down. We aren’t quite sure what the first clinical application will be,” Ben shared with us.

While slugs are the inspiration behind this adhesive material, the driving force behind the research is the effect this technology could have on revolutionizing medicine. “The larger impact of our technology is to improve healthcare and improve quality of life for future generations of people. I think that’s what  keeps all of us, particularly me, inspired. Also, the thought of improving health, and people all over the world, and inspiring the next generation of scientists keeps me motivated,” Ben expressed.

We at MiND are excited for Ben and all of the team to continue their work and we look forward to seeing what is to come from them and their research in the future!

By: Sarah Rossi