The animal kingdom has been used for inspiration in the medical field in all sorts applications, from electric eels inspiring self-powering implants to spider webs inspiring artificial skin and it looks like the inspiration keeps coming. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed a material for medical implants based on the properties of a squid's beak.
The tip of a squid's beak is harder than human teeth, but the base is as soft as the animal’s Jello-like body, a quality that could make medical implants not only durable, but more comfortable for the patients who need them.
Case Western says that the squid beak is made of “a network of chitin fibers embedded within increasingly cross-linked structural proteins from mouth to tip," which creates the gradient from hard to soft. This is noticeable even when dry, but most pronounced when wet.
To copy this, the researchers built upon a material they had previously made that mimicked the properties of sea cucumber skin, which was hard when dry and soft when wet. Gizmag reports, "They took some of that material, in film form, and added functionalized cellulose nanocrystals. Those nanocrystals form cross-links when exposed to light – the greater the exposure, the higher the number of links that form. By progressively exposing the film to more and more light along its length, they were able to make it rigid at one end, while gradually becoming softer towards the other end."
The new material could be used in things like needles in diabetics’ insulin pumps, metal stents inserted in blood vessels and prosthesis attachment points, or anywhere else where its qualities could increase a patient's comfort.