The Humble Beginnings of 5 Big Ideas

Where we see tangled headphones, annoying insects, and painful bandages, these scientists saw the beginnings of world-changing medical advances.

From Mental Floss
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine November 2013

Close-up of band-aid

Dan Saelinger/Trunk Archive

THE GECKO…might help newborns heal quicker.

Ripping off a Band-Aid is so unpleasant, it’s proverbial. But for certain patients, it’s also dangerous. Premature newborns and the elderly have delicate skin, and yanking away bandages and medical tape can lead to serious irritation, injuries, and even permanent scarring. In fact, each year, medical adhesives cause an estimated 1.5 million injuries in the United States alone.

“This is a problem that all neonatal doctors and nurses are aware of,” says Jeffrey Karp, a professor at Harvard Medical School. “They are desperately awaiting new adhesives that firmly secure devices to skin without damage.” That’s why Karp and his lab are working on an innovation to make bandage removal less eventful.

Traditional medical tape is simply an adhesive affixed to a backing, but Karp’s invention features a unique middle layer. This extra layer takes the brunt of the stress of removing the tape (instead of the adhesive one that attaches to skin), which minimizes damage.

When it’s time to pull away the bandage, it pops right off. All that’s left is a small amount of residue that can be covered with baby powder or simply rolled off the skin.

Karp’s tape isn’t his only innovation in adhesive technology—he made headlines in 2008 with a surgical bandage that mimicked the microscopic scales on gecko feet. The sticky surface allowed bandages to hold fast in tricky areas, including the wet tissues of the heart and lungs. Even better, the biodegradable sealant disintegrates over time, meaning that unlike with sutures or traditional medical tape, doctors never have to go back in to remove it. If Karp’s pain-free bandages pan out as well as his earlier breakthrough, future generations of patients will need a new metaphor for getting something over with quickly. —Liana Aghajanian

Next: Mosquitos might help reduce the spread of malaria »

Dan Saelinger/Trunk Archive

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