Parasitic Worms Inspire New Skin Graft Technology

Brigham and Women's has developed a skin graft securing patch inspired by worms.

If you’re not a huge fan of parasitic worms, you’re like approximately everybody else on the planet. Everybody, that is, except researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

For those not well-versed in the Pomphorhynchus laevis (shame on you), it’s a spiny-headed worm that attaches itself to fish by burrowing into the intestinal wall and swelling its head so that it becomes embedded in the tissue. Not cute, but the worm’s technique provided Brigham and Women’s researcher Jeffrey Karp, part of the department of biomedical engineering, just the inspiration he needed to create a new-and-improved way of securing skin grafts.

Karp and his team, who published their findings in the online journal Nature Communications, produced a worm-inspired micro-needle patch that they believe could revolutionize skin graft fixation. The underside of the patch is covered with cone-shaped needles, the tips of which swell when exposed to moisture. When the needles enter human tissue and become hydrated, they create a hold that, according to a report from Brigham and Women’s, is three times stronger than surgical staples, the current standard in grafting. Despite that firm hold, however, doctors can also easily manipulate the patch when it needs to be removed. In the report, Karp says:

“The unique design allows the needles to stick to soft tissues with minimal damage to the tissues,” says Dr. Karp. “Moreover, when it comes time to remove the adhesive, compared to staples, there is less trauma inflicted to the tissue, blood, and nerves, as well as a reduced risk of infection.”

And what’s more, the researchers believe that similar technology could also be used to deliver drugs like antibiotics or anti-inflammatory treatments to wounds and damaged tissues. It’s truly amazing that technology this important was inspired by something as disgusting as a spiny-headed worm, but we’ll chalk this one up to the classic kindergarten lesson: Don’t judge a book by its cover.