Doctors could soon ditch stitches and seal skin wounds with lasers

Just like the “dermal regenerator” in Star Trek, physicians may soon be able to heal skin wounds using smart, laser-based technology. That’s thanks to research coming out of Arizona State University, where researchers have demonstrated that it’s possible to repair animal wounds (and perhaps one day human ones as well) with a laser and some laser-activated nanomaterial. The resulting leakproof seal is both quicker to administer and stronger than many traditional sutures.

The team’s nanomaterial is made using gold nanorods, which are embedded into a special type of purified silk. When a laser is shone onto this material, the heat generated causes the silk to bond with the skin, creating a seal which is up to 7 times stronger than traditional sutures. The laser is not sufficiently powerful to damage the skin during the procedure.

The researchers have created two formulations of their nanomaterial. One is a water-resistant version for use in liquid environments — for instance, a surgery to remove a section of cancerous intestine. The other formulation involves mixing the laser-activated nanosealant with water, thereby forming a that which can be applied to superficial skin wounds.

The technique hasn’t yet been tried on humans, but it has been demonstrated to effectively seal soft-tissue wounds in animal models. These cases include healing a wound in a pig intestine and one on mouse skin. In both cases, the laser-based approach outperformed alternative solutions.

“Our results demonstrated that our combination of tissue-integrating nanomaterials, along with the reduced intensity of heat required in this system, is a promising technology for eventual use across all fields of medicine and surgery,” Kaushal Rege, professor of chemical engineering at Arizona State, said in a statement. “In addition to fine-tuning the photochemical bonding parameters of the system, we are now testing formulations that will allow for drug loading and release with different medications and with varying timed-release profiles that optimize treatment and healing.”

A paper describing this research, titled “Rapid Soft Tissue Approximation and Repair Using Laser‐Activated Silk Nanosealants,” was recently published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. Hopefully, it won’t be long before the fictional-sounding treatment comes to a hospital near you.

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