Patching up holes in blood vessels and the heart's walls may become easier with a new light-activated glue. This adhesive, described in the journal Science Translational Medicine, sets in seconds when exposed to UV light.
The new adhesive could offer an alternative to surgeons who are dissatisfied with current methods for repairing cardiac fissures, all of which have drawbacks. The sutures and staples often used can damage fragile tissue, and they don't immediately form a watertight seal. What's more, most existing surgical glues don't adhere well to wet tissue and can't withstand the pressure that a beating heart exerts on the heart chambers' walls and blood vessels; some are even rendered ineffectual if they react chemically with blood.
The researchers who devised the new material write that they were inspired by nature: They studied the viscous secretions of slugs and sandcastle worms to determine how they were able to form stable bonds underwater. Eventually they came up with a nontoxic polymer that doesn't mix with water, sets quickly when exposed to UV light, and remains elastic so that it can flex with the cardiac tissue. They demonstrated the effectiveness of their glue by coating patches with the glue and using them to mend holes in four pigs' carotid arteries and heart chamber walls—while the hearts were still beating.
While more animal studies are necessary before the adhesive can be tried out in humans, the researchers say their material could lead to more minimally invasive cardiac surgeries, since both the glue and the light can be delivered by thin tools. See below for an artist's rendering of an in vivo procedure.
Images: Randal McKensie
Eliza Strickland is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum, where she covers AI, biomedical engineering, and other topics. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.