Smart suture is first application of novel MIT polymer

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--A smart suture that ties itself into the perfect knot kicks off the first of many potential medical applications for new biodegradable plastics with "shape memory" developed at MIT and the University of Technology, Aachen, Germany. The materials are also biocompatible, or safe for use in a living animal.

The new plastics, reported in the April 25 online edition of Science, could first be shaped as a string, for example, then when heated could "change into a sheet (to prevent adhesion between two internal tissues after an operation), a screw (for, say, holding bones together), a stent or a suture," said Robert Langer, MITs Germeshausen Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. "I think there could be many different applications."

Langer coauthored the paper with Andreas Lendlein, a former MIT visiting scientist who is now managing director of mnemoScience GmbH, a company formed to commercialize the discovery. Lendlein is also a researcher at the University of Technology, Aachen, Germany, and just accepted a position as full professor at the University of Potsdam and as director of the GKSS research center in Teltow.


It is now possible to place small devices into the body by threading them through the tiny hollow tubes associated with minimally invasive surgery. "Such advances create new opportunities but also new challenges," write Lendlein and Langer. For example, "how does one implant a bulky device or knot a suture in a confined space?"

Some materials can be "taught" to have one shape at one temperature (or under one stress) and another shape at a second temperature. Much work, for example, has focused on "shape-memory" metallic alloys, which are used in applications such as stents for keeping blood vessels open. Shape-memory polymers have also been studied, but none have resulted in medical applications. "No shape-memory materials have been biodegradable," Langer said.

To create their new

Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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