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The Medical Bond: Welding tissues instead of getting stitches during surgery

New Contributor III
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For many types of surgery or for a bad cut on the skin, stitches are just fine. They bring the tissues together and speed up the healing process. But for some types of surgeries, you really need something better—something that will form a leak-proof, tight seal.

This is especially important for intestinal surgeries. The intestines are where your food goes after the stomach. The small intestine is about 20 feet long, and most of your digestion happens here. It also absorbs lots of nutrients. The left-over stuff that isn’t digested goes from the small intestine to the large intestine, a.k.a. the “colon” or “bowel.” A little more digestion and nutrientt absorption happens here, but mostly, wastes are packaged for later evacuation, if you will.

It’s not a pretty picture, but these body parts are necessary for extracting every last bit of goodness from our food.

It’s also not pretty, though, if there’s a tear and the stuff in the intestines leaks out. In fact, it can be very harmful. Leaks can cause extremely painful and life-threatening abdominal infections. Surgery is necessary to repair the damage, but regular stitches just don’t cut it.

That’s why surgeons perform “laser tissue welding” (LTW) in these types of cases. LTW is a surgical method for connecting and sealing blood vessels, cartilage in joints, the liver, the urinary tract and other tissues. It involves the use of laser light to heat tissue, causing changes that enable the sides of incisions to seal. LTW has advantages over sutures or staples, such as a shorter operation time and reduced scarring. However, it forms weak seals that can be a special problem in intestinal surgery.

In a recent issue of ACS Nano, researchers report that they’ve developed a new material that acts like a “solder” for LTW. It’s kind of like the metal-based solder that people use to seal together metal pieces.

This particular solder is called a plasmonic nanocomposite. It has tiny gold nanorods in it that are so small that that 100,000 could fit in the period at the end of this sentence. The gold nanorods are wrapped inside a material that makes it more elastic so it can move with the

They found that when the material was used as a light-activated solder for laser-welding cuts in pig intestines, it formed a strong, “liquid-tight” but elastic seal, preventing bacteria from leaking out. “Taken together, these plasmonic nanocomposites are exciting materials for laser-based tissue repair,” say the researchers. The researchers plan to investigate these materials in animals with intestinal injury.

“Laser Welding of Ruptured Intestinal Tissue Using Plasmonic Polypeptide Nanocomposite Solders”

*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing


Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock 

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