Nothing like a good pair of nitric oxide socks

10 January 2010
Posted by Chris Smith.

During these cold winter months you might like to strap yourself into some lovely fluffy socks, perhaps that your granny made you at Christmas.  And now you can get special socks for donor organs and people with diabetes, according to a paper from Chemistry of Materials this week.

Picture of Swedish original non-skid socks from Nowali.It's not quite putting livers in jumpers and hepatic veins in booties but chemists this week have described how they've created a special fabric that can deliver nitric oxide to donor organs.

Nitric oxide is great in preventing damage to organs which aren't getting enough oxygen.  It's actually a molecule which many animal cells use to communicate with other cells.  And one of the tasks nitric oxide performs is as a muscle relaxant, which means it can dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow.  Actually, it's one of the signalling pathways that Viagra capitalises on.

So this fabric contains zeolites which are molecular cages of aluminium and silicon oxides.  And those cages will soak up gas molecules like nitric oxide and then release them in a controlled manner.  The way they make the bandage fabric is to construct a water-repellant polymer, then embed some of these zeolites in it.  They can control how fast nitric oxide is released by making the polymer more or less water repellent.  So to get the nitric oxide flowing you just need to add moisture.

And the scientists working on this, Kenneth Balkus and Harvey Liu at the University of Texas, are solving a problem here that many have struggled with before in medicine.  It's quite tricky to find reliable ways of storing and then delivering nitric oxide in a controlled manner.  Because, as with many good things, too much is toxic.

So apart from wrapping donated organs ready for transplantation, the zeolite fabric could be used for people with diabetes, in whom it's been found that nitric oxide production is compromised. Wearing this fabric might increase blood flow in all sorts of extremities, and they could really benefit from some NO socks.

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