Magnets could replace stitches and staples – and revolutionise surgery

Researchers leading a California trial into a new device say it could be suitable for tens of thousands of procedures and will “revolutionise this area”.

The new device uses magnets instead of stitches and staples. It holds the two edges of the wound together with a strong magnetic bond that US researchers believe promotes faster and more secure healing.

They say it’s safer than standard ­techniques, meaning a lower risk of complications such as leaks. And it could be cheaper.

Surgery also often involves tying the ends of blood vessels or other structures, such as intestines, tendons and ­ligaments, together until they naturally grow together and fuse.

This connection is called an ­anastomosis and is usually done with staples or stitches. To be fully healed and strong can take 10 days or more.

Anastomoses are most commonly used in bowel surgery and weight-loss ops for obese patients. With the new device it is thought the anastomoses would be stronger and the surgery less invasive. Plus, they would be strong enough to function normally in a much shorter time.

In the UK around 30,000 operations for bowel cancer are carried out each year and up to 7,000 ops require cutting blood vessels of the stomach and ­intestines. The new device connects the severed ends using the attraction between two tiny ring magnets, each 23mm in diameter, which have concave or convex surfaces so that they fit snugly into each other.

They stay there for a week then they automatically loosen their magnetic hold and they’re naturally removed from the body.

“We need to explore different ways of stitching the bowel together,” says Shafi Ahmed, a consultant colorectal surgeon and a spokesman for the Royal College of Surgeons.

“This is potentially a very exciting and novel idea, which could involve not having to use stitches, making an ­operation quicker.”

It would also mean that a patient has to stay under, that is have general ­anaesthetic, for a shorter time which is always beneficial, particularly for patients who are older.

So a pilot study with 10 patients, ­monitoring them for two years, is being set up. It’s early days but looks promising.