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© Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Today, countless operations are carried out using minimally invasive techniques. In these operations, miniature cameras and surgical tools can be inserted into the body through just a small incision. This allows tumours to be removed, tissue to be repaired, and organs to be mended. Minimally invasive methods also offer benefits over open surgery: less pain, quicker healing and shorter recovery times. It’s only when it comes to closing internal wounds and tears that they reach their limits. Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have now developed a medical patch, inspired by the ancient art of origami, that can be folded around minimally invasive surgical tools and guided through airways, intestines and other narrow parts of the body in order to treat internal injuries.

When dry, the patch resembles a foldable, paper-like film. As soon as it comes into contact with wet tissue or organs, it transforms into a stretchy gel that can stick to the site of the injury. Unlike previous surgical adhesives, the new patch has been designed in such a way that it will not be contaminated if it comes into contact with bacteria or bodily fluids. Over time, the patch can be safely biodegraded by the body. The new biological adhesive will be positioned in the desired location by minimally invasive surgical tools operated either directly or remotely via a medical robot. Techniques inspired by origami are used to fold the patch material around instruments such as balloon catheters and surgical staplers. The developers intend to collaborate with designers in order to integrate the biological adhesive with robot-supported surgical platforms.

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