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Purdue researchers have developed a mussel-mimicking adhesive polymer that is non-toxic to living cells. The synthetic material can be used in surgical and biomedical applications.

“One long-term goal is to potentially replace sutures and screws owing to the trauma caused from punching holes into healthy tissue," said Jonathan Wilker, a professor of chemistry and materials engineering who helped lead a research team that developed the polymer. “A possibly improved approach would be to use adhesives for connecting tissues.”

The polymer, which the researchers have named catechol-polystyrene, is designed after a natural protein that mussels produce for sticking to surfaces. The animals extend hair-like fibers that connect to surfaces with a natural adhesive.

The Purdue researchers tested the polymer with mouse cells called NIH/3T3 fibroblasts. Such cells are often used in research to assess toxicity by examining how well cells survive and grow when exposed to new materials.

Tests using two types of assays revealed that the cells continue to function properly when exposed to the polymer. In one of the assays, the cells with intact membranes produce a key enzyme, which indicates that they are alive.

Future research will include developing next-generation adhesive materials and performing tests with tissue specimens.

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