Scientists who look to nature for ways to improve the practice of medicine occasionally find nice surprises. When Pedro del Nido and Jeffrey Karp studied the secretions some creatures use to attach to surfaces wet or dry, they uncovered properties that inspired them to develop a nontoxic, waterproof, elastic, and biodegradable replacement for sutures, especially those now used to mend delicate heart tissue. Their report of this new surgical glue appeared in the January 8 issue of Science Translational Medicine.
“Current glues are either toxic, easily wash out in the presence of blood, or react immediately upon contact with water,” says study co-author Pedro del Nido, the HMS William E. Ladd Professor of Child Surgery and chief of cardiac surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. “They also tend to lose their sticking power in the presence of blood or under dynamic conditions, such as in a beating heart.”
In a preclinical study, del Nido; Karp, an HMS associate professor of medicine and co-director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and colleagues developed an adhesive that can rapidly attach biodegradable patches directly on defects inside a beating heart. They found that the patches remained attached even at increased heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, because the glue’s adhesive properties are activated rapidly by ultraviolet (UV) light, when placed, the patches can be sealed within five seconds of UV exposure.
“To our knowledge this is the first demonstration that an adhesive can bond to wet tissues and seal them without being affected by the presence of blood,” says Karp. “We showed that the tissue glue can seal holes in high-pressure dynamic tissues, including blood vessels and the myocardium.”
The researchers suggest the adhesive will help reduce the invasiveness of surgical procedures, shorten operating times, and improve heart surgery outcomes. The adhesive technology has been licensed for development and is expected to be commercially available within three years.