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Introduction to 5 Physical Problems Doctors Fix With Glue

Surgical sutures are still used, but more and more injuries are being addressed with adhesive instead of stitches.

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Imagine with us: You're preparing dinner, and while slicing onions you slice your finger -- and it's deep enough that you need stitches. The doctor at the emergency room applies ... cobwebs to your wound, and sends you home. Huh? Once upon a time that might have been the case. It wasn't until the Ancient Egyptians that wounds would have been stitched up in a manner we'd recognize -- with a needle and thread. Before then, people tried everything from cobwebs to sutures fashioned from insect jaws (kind of like staples, except, you know, made from bugs), but today we're still stitching patients up the Egyptian way. Look out needle, though, you're about to meet glue. Specifically, super glue.

Super glue is a cyanoacrylate adhesive, which has been used as an instant adhesive for fixing all the things that break around your house -- and it can even preserve a single snowflake -- since patent number 2,768,109 for "Alcohol-Catalyzed Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Compositions/Superglue" was approved and hit store shelves in 1958. And as it turns out, it's also good in surgical settings. Instead of coming unglued in the presence of blood or water it will polymerize, creating a plug or a seal.

Super glue's surgical uses began during the Vietnam War when field medics applied the glue to open wounds in an effort to buy injured soldiers more time for treatment; in 2001 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a chemical similar to super glue, 2-octyl-cyanoacrylate (marketed as Dermabond), which sticks like cyanoacrylate but has antibacterial qualities and causes less irritation.

Since then physicians and surgeons have access to a few types of glues, some used to treat minor lacerations while others will stop bleeding in your brain. And with a 2014 discovery of a waterproof, light-activated, beach worm-inspired glue, physicians and researchers are excited about future gluing possibilities, including mending a broken heart.

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