Dermabond: surgical superglue

In the past, people who have been seriously wounded were given stitches that required surgery and often left unattractive scars. Now, an innovative solution has been developed to replace traditional stitches with a product known as Dermabond. Dermabond is a liquid skin adhesive designed to repair lacerations and close surgical incisions. With a composition similar to superglue, it effectively seals the skin quickly and painlessly.

Dermabond contains the compound 2-octyl cyanoacrylate, an acrylic resin. Cyanoacrylate adhesives are famous for “instant” attachment because of their hydrophilic nature. The compound reacts with water to form a strong, flexible bond. It does this by polymerizing and rapidly creating long, strong chains in the presence of moisture on the skin’s surface.

Uses for cyanoacrylate glues in medicine have been explored since the early 1960s. Eastman Kodak and Ethicon, under the leadership of Harry Coover of Kodak Laboratories, were the first companies to consider whether the glues could join human tissues together injury or surgery. In 1964, Eastman Kodak submitted an application to use cyanoacrylate glues to seal wounds to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In 1966, Kodak Laboratories was given a chance to test the glue in Vietnam. The cyanoacrylate glue was administered by a specially trained surgical team, with significant results for wounded patients. “The biggest problem they had was stopping the bleeding so they could get the patient back to the hospital; many of them bled to death,” Coover said in a Kingsport [Tenn.] Times-News report. Medical officials sprayed the substance on wounds, which closed the opening and allowed the wounded sufficient time to reach the hospital.

Dermabond offers many advantages: The need for stitches is eliminated, and incisions can be closed in three-quarters of the time. The strong yet flexible bond seals out harmful bacteria and disappears naturally as the opening heals. There is no need for anesthesia before application of the glue, nor for bandages after. It is gentle and more comfortable; Dermabond does not scar the skin as stitches do. This works well for sensitive areas on the face, especially near the eyes.

Phil Campbell, a professor of biology at Carnegie Mellon, has a different opinion about Dermabond’s significance. “It’s basically superglue packaged in a sterile environment,” said Campbell. He suggested using fibrin glue as an alternative because it may be a better solution due to its composition of proteins and body-friendly materials. However, there is always a chance of an unfavorable reaction between the proteins and the person’s body.

Dermabond cannot be used effectively on jagged and wide cuts or in areas of increased stretching or tension; it is harder to keep the skin together when applying the glue. If the skin is not kept together, Dermabond cannot form a bond between the skin.

Cyanoacrylate glues also are used in medicine for orthopedic surgery, dental and oral medicine (marketed as “Soothe-n-Seal”), veterinary medicine (Nexaband), and for home use (as Band-Aid Brand Liquid Bandage). It also has been explored as a potential treatment for emphysema, where it can be used to seal off diseased lung passages without the need for invasive surgery.