Engineers from Arizona State University have developed a tool that is essentially taken from the Star Trek series of movies, particularly from The Next Generation.
In a new paper out from the journal – Advanced Functional Materials – the engineers (Kaushal Rege and colleagues) successfully repaired animal wounds with a silk and gold nanomaterial activated by a laser.
That is similar to the ‘dermal regenerator’ that Dr Crusher would use to help heal commander Riker, who had the habit of getting into trouble often.
In the proof-of-concept study, the technology quickly sealed soft-tissue wounds in pig intestines and on mice skin. In the pig intestines, for example, the seal proved to be roughly seven times stronger than traditional sutures.
To use a laser to seal skin, one must focus the heat of the light using some sort of photoconverter. Rege’s lab opted for gold nanorods and embedded them in a silk protein matrix purified from silkworm cocoons.
A silk protein called fibroin binds to collagen, the structural protein that holds together human skin cells. When near-infrared light hits the gold nanorods, they produce heat and activate the silk and skin to create bonds, forming a sturdy seal.
The near-infrared laser operates at a wavelength of about 800 nanometers, which is powerful enough to heat the gold without damaging the skin.
When the team pumped colored liquid through pieces of repaired intestine, the laser-activated sealant was seven times better than traditional sutures or glue at preventing liquid from escaping. In fact, the laser-repaired intestines performed just as well as normal, undamaged intestines, according to the journal.
They are currently watching how the laser-activated seals hold up in living rats. If that goes well, they’ll move to pigs, and, perhaps, eventually, humans.