Suction Saves the Day

Suction tool taking a tissue sheet and placing it on a hand

Got a delicate job to do? Call an octopus!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

You wouldn’t use barbecue tongs to pick up your contact lenses! Now think of surgeons. In performing transplants, they have to transport delicate skin tissue. Sensitive, accurate tools are needed to handle these materials without crumpling or damaging them.

Byoungsoo Kim and Hyunjoon Kong at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an international team found inspiration in…octopuses! Their arms are lined with hundreds of tiny suction cups to help grasp their next snack.

The researchers created a similar suction cup using a material called HYDROGEL. Its tiny holes can shrink or expand, creating a strong grip. Hydrogels gently hold the tissue during transport so it isn’t dropped or damaged.

Earlier surgical devices took almost an hour to transfer a single sheet of tissue. But the hydrogel device does it in TEN SECONDS — without crumpling the tissue.

Kim and Kong hope this will make surgeries much more efficient.

Now – where’d I drop my contact…? If only we had a pet octopus…

Kim, B. S., Kim, M. K., Cho, Y., Hamed, E. E., Gillette, M. U., Cha, H., Miljkovic, N., Aakalu, V. K., Kang, K., Son, K.-N., Schachtschneider, K. M., Schook, L. B., Hu, C., Popescu, G., Park, Y., Ballance, W. C., Yu, S., Im, S. G., Lee, J., Lee,C. H., Kong, H. (2020). Electrothermal soft manipulator enabling safe transport and handling of thin cell/tissue sheets and bioelectronic devices. Science Advances, 6(42), eabc5630.