New research has implied that porcupine quills may hold the key to less painful hypodermic needles. The natural shape of the porcupine spines allows easy, smooth penetration. It also makes them difficult to remove.
Porcupines use their quills as protection; they can shed them before escaping a predator, often burying them in their assailants’ skin before running. These sharp barbs then lodge themselves tightly in the flesh.
A recent study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It discusses the unique build of the quills, revealing why they are such an effective weapon. The reasons are twofold; the quills have sharp, piercing cone-shaped tips as well as microscopic barbs that face the opposite direction. These barbs gather the force of the stab at the tip, providing cleaner, faster penetration as well as anchor the quill in the flesh. In other words, less pressure is needed in order to penetrate the resisting tissue.
Dr. Jeffrey Karp of Bringham and Women’s Hospital in Boston explained:
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“We were most surprised to find that the barbs on quills serve a dual function. Namely, the barbs reduce the penetration force for easy insertion into tissue and maximize the holding force to make the quills incredibly difficult to remove.”
The findings should improve the design of needles and other medical equipment, according to the researchers.
“Towards medical applications we developed plastic replicas that remarkably mimicked the reduced penetration force and increased pullout. This should be useful to develop next generation medical adhesives and potentially design needles with reduced pain.”