For centuries, physicians have sutured surgical incisions and open wounds closed by threading yarns back and forth through the tissue, pulling them tight and knotting them in place. Now, NC State is aiding in the design of a suture that can stay in place without being knotted. Eliminating the knot speeds the suturing process and allows tissue to move more freely and without abrasion.

Biotextiles professor Martin King and College of Textiles doctoral student Nilesh Ingle are using computer simulations to improve the performance of a barbed suture developed by a surgeon at Duke University Medical Center. The tiny barbs sink into the tissue so the suture doesn’t pull out and the wound remains closed.

Barbed sutures are already used in cosmetic surgery and to close minor flesh wounds. But they haven’t been tested on other types of tissue—tendons, ligaments, muscle, or bone. So Ingle, who has already used computers to measure the tension and compression forces on the barbs as a suture is pulled, is modeling the performance of the sutures in various tissues. Simulations are better than using real tissue, King says, because computer models are more consistent. “From using cadavers,” he says, “we have pretty good data about how different tissues move under stresses.”

No one has looked at the best way to make the barbs either, King says, noting that the Duke surgeon who came up with the idea initially created the barbs by randomly cutting notches in a regular suture with a scalpel. So, after Ingle finishes with the simulations for different tissue types, he plans to run models to determine the optimal shape, length, and configuration of the barbs for the various tissues. King has applied for a National Institutes of Health grant to help fund the research. “This is totally cutting-edge,” Ingle says. “It’s not often you can have a major breakthrough on a product that will touch so many people.”