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Spiderwebs may inspire better medical tape
October 29th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

Spiderwebs may inspire better medical tape

Taking medical tape off an adult isn't too painful because breakage occurs in the glue (you can sometimes see the leftover residue). But removing the same adhesive from a newborn can break fragile skin, causing significant damage, says Jeffrey Karp, researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Traditional medical tape has two layers: the sticky one and the non-sticky one that forms the backing. The adhesive is designed for adults, Karp said; newborns need something else just for them.

In the neonatal intensive care unit tape often needs to be changed, Karp said. If the tape is on a joint, peeling the fragile skin can cause mobility problems.

"The kids are just completely helpless here," he said.

Karp, Robert Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Bryan Laulicht of Brigham and Women's wanted to solve this problem by designing a tape that doesn't damage sensitive skin when it's removed. They've published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describing their idea for a solution, which hasn't yet been tested clinically.

The researchers looked to nature for inspiration: Spiderwebs have some adhesive regions and others that are not so sticky. Mica, a strong mineral, has layers that can peel off easily. Geckos have feet with patterned surfaces that allow them to stick to walls, but which they can easily remove from surfaces for walking.

Influenced by these examples, the researchers have designed a tape with three layers. On top is the non-sticky backing, and a sticky layer clings to the skin, as usual. But the middle layer has an anti-adhesive coating. Using a laser, researchers etched a pattern into this middle layer so that they could control how the adhesive and backing interact.

"By controlling those interactions, we were able to define a regime where the adhesive could secure devices very strongly to the skin, but was very easy to remove," Karp said.

The concept appears to "offer a major advantage by providing adhesion and anchoring without causing damage to the skin," said Dr. Michael Katz, interim medical director of the March of Dimes Foundation.

This is all still preliminary, though; the tape has not yet been clinically tested.

More than 1.5 million injuries per year nationwide happen because of medical adhesive removal, the study said. Besides newborns, elderly patients can also suffer skin damage from harsh adhesives.

The research was funded by grants from Philips Children's Medical Ventures and National Institutes of Health, and the work was performed in collaboration with the Institute for Pediatric Innovation.

Karp and Langer know a lot about making things stick. They also used gecko feet as inspiration for creating a waterproof adhesive bandage. This is now being tested on large animals.


soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. LT

    I hope this new tape is successful and they are able to use it soon.

    October 30, 2012 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Robert Willhite

    Why not use the same procedure that is used in the Grant products where you attach a hook with the adhesive then pull on the tab to remove the attachment without maring the surface.

    October 30, 2012 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MomofTeens

      I think the amount of pressure/pull required to remove it would be a problem. It doesn't damage a wall or door but they are looking at the damage to premees and older peoples skin. Pulling that hard would probably do damage like the current adhesives do. Good thought though!

      October 30, 2012 at 16:45 | Report abuse |
  3. Katydidnot

    Native Americans have been using spider webs for centuries to bandage a cut! Visit Plymouth plantation and they will show you.

    October 30, 2012 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NUNYA

      in Peru they use spiderwebs to heal wounds and any type of cuts. ( Incas been doing it for centuries!!)
      OH USA you are way behind....

      October 30, 2012 at 13:14 | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      You aren't looking at this the way they are. They aren't talking about using it specifically as a bandage but as tape used to hold instruments, probes, and IVs to the body. A spiderweb wouldn't work for that.

      October 30, 2012 at 16:51 | Report abuse |
  4. NurseWill

    Obviously this researcher hasn't spoken to nurses about adhesives on adults. That first sentence made me laugh. The vast majority of hospitalized patients are over 50 years old, and ask any nurse how terrible tape is on older adult's skin. Skin tears on hospitalized as a result from adhesives that we've placed on them is so unfortunately common.

    October 30, 2012 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ms M

      That was mentioned in the article. "More than 1.5 million injuries per year nationwide happen because of medical adhesive removal, the study said. Besides newborns, elderly patients can also suffer skin damage from harsh adhesives." Even though I am hardly elderly, I take blood thinner medication and have very sensitive skin. Ironically, I sometimes bleed from the blood thinner injection so I have to put on a bandage. Band-Aid brands tend to be a little stickier than Curad so Band-Aids sometimes cause irritation and even bleeding when the bandage is removed. Curad works better for me. I can't even imagine how sensitive a newborn's skin is. As much as a I hate spiders, they are good for some things.

      October 30, 2012 at 15:48 | Report abuse |
    • dowhatifeellike

      I'm not sure how you can say "the vast majority of hospitalized patients are over 50 years old" when nearly every baby passes through a hospital.

      October 30, 2012 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
  5. tony marchese

    Amazing how blind evolution with so called trial & error can produce such highly intelligent creatures requiring volumes of complex blueprints! Called talk to the animals or better yet ask them so they can instruct you! Something for thinking so called intelligent to really THINK about, ah?!!

    October 30, 2012 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Angus

    where was this origanily published?

    October 30, 2012 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. MashaSobaka

    I have incredibly delicate skin that (a) reacts rather violently to adhesives, including those on medical tape and (b) tends to tear when the tape is removed if it's been on for more than a few hours. Newborns aren't the only patients who would benefit from this. Of course they get first dibs. I can deal with some shredded skin. They'll have a harder time.

    October 30, 2012 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Matt

    Here's two ideas that are much cheaper:

    For the issue with the sticky adhesive and breaking the skin, why not use those sticky bands that they give out at carnivals or clubs. If you reverse the way of applying the band, the sticky side faces AWAY from the wrist/ankle instead of towards the skin. This would require setting the end of the band with the sticky side on the child first (again, sticky side out) and wrapping the band to meet the sticky side (since the other end has no adhesives).

    Or, use velcro bands. Like the piece above, have the scratchy side face out and the fuzzy side face in.

    If you want to get super technical about the sticky side and the scratchy side and how some portions of it may be exposed (after pressing the safe side down to cover the sticky/scratchy side) and could hurt the child if they put their hands near their face or any other part of their body, just make the sticky and scratchy side a little bit narrower (imagine something like an isosceles trapezoid) so that the nurse/doctor doesn't have to be TOO exact on trying to line it up perfectly.

    For removal, either just use safe scissors to cut the material (assuming the material is cheap enough to dispose of after use), or make the material just strong enough to lightly hold to itself, but be able to come apart easily (just a bit stronger than a baby's strength).

    October 31, 2012 at 10:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Humpty Dumpty (Repaired Version)

    I sometimes use the stronger tape to remove my eyebrows, which saves me a great amount of time when I shave. I am thinking about starting a little spider farm now. This story reminds me of a time when I went to sit outside and smoke my pipe, and filled it with some tobacco I bought from the local tobacco shop. Anyway, there was a dead garden spider in the pipe, and I smoked it. I felt a bit sick at first, but later I had this amazing dream about adhesion and anchoring.

    October 31, 2012 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Brenda Waite

    I think this is a good idea knowing that new borns won't be hurt by adhesive as much.

    November 3, 2012 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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