How scientists are using Porcupines for the newest health technology

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When somebody sees a porcupine, the last thing they think about is how cute their quills are. The most common reaction is to run away, since their quills are painful to us, and lethal to some animals. However, we started to use their quills as an inspiration for new medical staples. That’s right! Medical staples. Although many think that they are for acupuncture, the quills’ natural design could help create a less damaging and painful staple model.

It’s true that staples are much easier to use than sutures, since sutures take time to use with a thread and needle. However, today’s staples are made of metal and can cause problems when the staple is bent into place, which in turn starts to tear into a person’s tissue. According to Jeff Karp, a bio-engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, “There are challenges in terms of placing them for minimally invasive procedures.” It was he and his team who decided to look for alternatives to normal staples, and ended up discovering new ways (such as porcupine needles) to hold bodily tissues together.

The average North American porcupine appears cute, but that becomes questionable when you see the danger of its 30,000 quills. Each quill is about 2 to 3 inches long and very hollow. Porcupines never have their quills up, unless they feel threatened, and contrary to the myth, they also don’t shoot quills out of their bodies.

So what makes the quills so special?  

Most porcupine quills look alike, but the most unique quills researchers have seen belong to the North American porcupines, due to the microscopic, backward-facing barbs. Of course, in general, this is not good, because of the inability to pull the quill back out. Researchers found decayed skeletons of mountain lions that hunted on Porcupines and died because of the quills stuck in their organs. However, scientists were amazed by the natural design because of how sturdy it is in the body. The inspiration drove scientists to create a new type of medical staple that has two barbed tips that require much less effort to place. They believe that the gripping power of the barbs will hold it in position without needing to bend it in place. Even more amazing, scientists are trying to make the modern staple biodegradable so it wouldn’t have to be taken out at all.

Overall, this won’t be the first or the last time we decide to borrow something from nature. Maybe soon, we will be able to have new revolutionary technology in medicine, by going back to our roots, Mother Nature.