Tackling Clotting Problems with Biomimicry


Human beings have long been using biomimicry, the act of imitating processes and materials found elsewhere in nature, to solve many of our pressing problems and to move technology forward. When it comes to the problem of blood clotting in patients using pacemakers or during kidney dialysis, the answer may be found in a carnivorous plant:

A carnivorous plant has inspired an invention that may turn out to be a medical lifesaver.

Nepenthes, also known as tropical pitcher plants or monkey cups, produce a superslippery surface that causes unfortunate insects that climb into the plant to slide to their doom.

Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering wondered if they could find a way to mimic that surface to solve [the blood clotting problem].

The Harvard scientists wondered if they could find a coating that would have the same properties as the nepenthe’s slippery surface; something that could be applied to tubing or devices that come in contact with blood.

As they report in the journal Nature Biotechnology, they tested man-made materials known as perfluorocarbons, searching for one that would have the same characteristics as the nepenthe’s coating. As luck would have it, they found one called perfluorodecalin which was already being used in medical applications.

The researchers tested the coating in pigs. They diverted blood coming from a pig’s heart through a loop of tubing before returning it the pig’s blood supply. They compared tubes with the new coating, and without. Blood flow through the coated tubes remained virtually constant over the 8 hours of the experiment, whereas clots formed in tubing without the coating, substantially slowing blood flow with time.


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