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Scientists look to tick 'cement' as potential medical adhesive

"It is totally conceivable that, in future, it will be possible to use this substance to produce a biological adhesive for human tissue," said researcher Sylvia Nürnberger.

By Brooks Hays
Scientists look to tick 'cement' as potential medical adhesive
Researchers in Austria are studying the adhesive substance secreted by ticks with hopes of replicating the "cement" for use in various medical procedures. File photo by Roman Prokhorov/Shutterstock

Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Researchers in Austria are exploring the potential of tick "cement" as a super-strong bioadhesive.

Once ticks lodge themselves onto their victims and begin to feed, they're notoriously difficult to detach. If they're improperly plucked, their heads often remain embedded in flesh, while only the abdomen tears away.

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An extra strong secretion, a cement-like substance, helps ticks anchor themselves to their victims. Researchers at MedUni Vienna and Vienna University of Technology are currently studying tick specimens and their anchoring process with the hope of recreating the sticky chemical concoction.

Scientists have the tick specimens bite into a skin-like membrane, then collect tiny samples of the cement after it is secreted and hardens.

"It is totally conceivable that, in future, it will be possible to use this substance to produce a biological adhesive for human tissue, for example for anchoring tendons and ligaments to bone without using any metal," researcher leader Sylvia Nürnberger, a trauma surgery specialist, explained in a news release.

Current adhesives used for serious skin injuries and liver tears are mildly toxic. Scientists are currently testing the viability of a bioadhesive inspired by the threads mussels use to attach to rocks. Though promising, the test results suggest the thread-inspired adhesive won't be strong enough for all relevant medical procedures.

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Though scientists are currently focused on Austrian tick specimens, the research team plans to study the cementing abilities of giant tick species in South Africa later this year.

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