CORNELL (US)—A compound found in sunless tanning spray may be effective in helping to seal wounds following surgery, according to a new study.

Procedures to remove cancerous breast tissue, for example, often leave a hollow space that fills with seroma fluid and must typically be drained by a temporary implant.

“This is an unpleasant side effect of surgery that is often unavoidable,” says Jason Spector, a plastic surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“The new substance would act to glue together the hole left behind to prevent seroma buildup.”

Details published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that a sticky gel of polyethylene glycol and a polycarbonate of dihydroxyacetone (MPEG-pDHA) sticks to certain compounds (amines) in biological tissues. Its sticky properties allow sunless tanners to adhere to the skin without being wiped off.

Because it is biodegradable and water soluble, DHA does not stay tacked onto the body’s tissues forever.

Currently used “bio-glues” are made from animal products and take a long time to degrade in the body—factors that raise the risk of infection.

“DHA is a compound that is naturally produced in the body,” says lead author David Putnam, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University. “The glue is broken down, or metabolized, and then safely removed by the body.”

Putnam’s lab has worked to create safe, synthetic compounds from chemicals found in nature. DHA is an intermediary compound produced during the metabolism of glucose, a sugar used by the body for fuel.

To create MPEG-pDHA, Putnam and colleagues first bound the single molecule monomer of DHA, which is highly reactive, to a protecting group molecule, making it stable enough to manipulate. This allowed the engineers to bind the monomers together to form a polymer, or chain of molecules, along with MPEG. Doing so allows the polymer gel to be injected through a syringe.

“Making a polymer from DHA has eluded chemical engineers for about 20 years,” Putnam says.

Now in gel form, the compound has the ability to stick tissues together like an internal Band-Aid, preventing the pocket from filling with seroma fluid, Putnam explains. The gel prevented or significantly lowered fluid buildup in rats that had had breast tissue removed.

“The next step would be to test the gel on larger animals and then in clinical trials in human surgical cases,” Spector says.

Previous results published by Putnam and Spector in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research showed that the gel also prevented bleeding in a rat liver.

“This is another aspect of the compound that would be greatly beneficial if proven to be applicable in humans,” Spector says. “The gel could speed the healing and decrease bleeding within the body.”

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