Medical glue mends broken hearts

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

heart patch
The glue’s stickiness is activated with ultraviolet light.

Skin glue is a medical substance used to close small cuts or wounds. As useful as it is, though, the adhesive (a material that sticks) isn’t usable inside the body. Not only does moisture mess up the glue, it is also a potential toxin. Now, however, researchers have created a special type that can potentially be used to mend defective hearts.

Their new substance is not affected by water and unlike regular medical glue, it can withstand pressure from a beating heart. Additionally, it is completely safe to use inside the body and is biodegradable – a biological substance that can break down easily over time. Interestingly enough, the scientists got the idea from slugs, because they can use their slime to stick to a wall, even when it’s wet.

One of the most important features is how quickly the glue is able to set. In 5 seconds, it becomes adhesive with a quick flash of ultraviolet light and remains sticky around blood. “This adhesive platform addresses all of the drawbacks of previous systems in that it works in the presence of blood and moving structures,” said study co-author Pedro del Nido, the chief of cardiac surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston. “It should provide the physician with a completely new, much simpler technology and a new paradigm for tissue reconstruction to improve the quality of life of patients following surgical procedures.”

To see how effective the glue was, the researchers made small cuts on the hearts of live pigs, then quickly sealed the wounds. They then followed the animals for 24 hours and found the cuts were still glued shut, even in the pigs with extremely high blood pressure. These results assure researchers it will work for humans.

This is great news for children who are born with heart defects, such as holes that affect beating rhythms and blood flow. “About 40,000 babies are born with congenital heart defects in the United States annually, and those that require treatment are plagued with multiple surgeries to deliver or replace nondegradable implants that do not grow with young patients,” said second co-author Jeffrey Karp of Harvard University.

This creation will absolutely change surgeries, reducing the need for staples, stitches, blood loss, and time.

Images courtesy of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.