New Natural Polyester Makes Sutures Stronger

Photo: A plaster

A biopolymer suture cleared last month by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is made of materials that the human body produces naturally, so they can be safely absorbed once the wound is healed. They are also 30 percent stronger than sutures now used and very flexible, making them easier for surgeons to work with.

The sutures were developed by a spinoff company founded by Simon Williams, postdoctoral associate of the Massachusettes Insitute of Technology (MIT). Williams said he envisions that the new sutures will be used for abdominal closures, which are prone to re-opening, and to stitch tendons and ligaments. Developed using a method created at MIT, the absorbable sutures are the first made from material produced by genetically modified bacteria.

About 20 years ago, researchers in the laboratory of MIT biology professor Anthony Sinskey started swapping genes between different bacteria, hoping to achieve industrial production of desirable natural compounds synthesized by those bacteria. The researchers focused their "biopolymer engineering" efforts on a group of genes that code for enzymes in a pathway that produces polyesters. Those polyesters can be broken down into metabolites naturally produced by humans, so they cause no harm when absorbed.

Once the genes were identified, they could be transferred into a strain of industrial E. coli that can produce large quantities of the strong, flexible polymer. "Not only is it technically and in an engineering sense a tremendous victory, but it's also a victory for society because this leads to new medical devices that can help people in new and novel ways," said Sinskey.

The new suture is the first of what the researchers hope will be many medical devices made from the natural polyesters. "What we've found is that this one material seems to be finding a lot of use in different applications," because of its wide range of desirable properties, Williams said.; Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology