Superglue for your eyeballs is now a thing

Of all the liquids to squirt in your retinas, superglue rarely tops lists. That advice may soon have to be slightly more nuanced, thanks to scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) who have developed a ‘smart superglue’ designed to seal eye injuries, including gunshot wounds.

Superglue for your eyeballs is now a thing

The dubious-sounding gel in fact serves a very noble purpose; it’s designed with people for whom medical services are a long way off, serving as a temporary fix to prevent deterioration of wounds (see also the bullet sponge syringe). As such, a useful application for the glue is in the military; if soldiers get hit by shrapnel, for example, it can alleviate damage to the eyes, staving off permanent vision impairment. Makes sense, given that the researchers were initially approached by the US Department of Defense (DoD) for help in the field.

The scientists adapted a hydrogel called poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) – not sure how that one’ll hold up commercially – which they’d been working on prior. The substance’s distinctive property is that it solidifies when warmed up (or rather, the liquid becomes more viscous), making it an optimal substance for sealing eye wounds on a human body. Given that it reverts into a liquid at cooler temperatures, the gel can be easily washed off with cold water.

“Since the initial hydrogel’s transition temperature was very close to the temperature of the human eye, we had to modify its properties to ensure that it would form a solid seal as soon as the gel was applied to the eye by a soldier or medic,” explains USC team member Niki Bayat, on the university’s website. “Providing a perfect, yet reversible seal, the smart hydrogel shows promise for the next generation of tissue adhesives.”

Accompanying the the gel is a formidable sounding syringe for application, which wields an internal cooling mechanism using calcium ammonium nitrate, just like in instant ice cold packs. From start to finish the process should take around five minutes, so considerable time saved on the patching up rigmarole that’s currently favoured, which takes around half an hour.

Meanwhile, if the thought of this is making you a little queasy, you’ve got some time yet to acclimatise; the substance has only been tested on rabbits, with clinical trials scheduled for 2019. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome breakthrough and a veritable triumph in the field of emergency medical solutions. Keep your, er, eyes peeled.

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