New Surgical Adhesive May Mend Broken Hearts

by Robin Mwai, age 16

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have created a surgical glue that offers great promise in providing a safer, more efficient method for mending broken hearts.

Extensive work in multiple fields is still required to finalize this development; however, if successful, the work will pay off. Creating a successful surgical adhesive will be a pivotal development in cardiac procedures. Current methods for correcting heart defects involve stapling and suturing tissue, which can be both slow and harmful. New and innovative techniques could replace these conventional tools with fast-acting adhesives, making surgeries faster and potentially preventing complications.

Jeffery Karp, a biomaterials researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and co-founder of the French startup company Gecko Biomedical, began the project to create heart glue after meeting Boston Children’s Hospital cardiac surgeon Pedro Del Nido. Del Nido desired a new and less risky way to repair congenital heart defects. He encouraged Karp to develop an adhesive, biodegradable material that would work well when surrounded by blood and that would be elastic enough to move with the heart's natural motions.

Finding a substance that met Del Nido’s requirements was no easy task. In 2005, Karp developed a rubber-like material that can be applied in liquid form and solidifies after a few seconds of exposure to UV light. This material has hydrophobic properties: it will not dissolve in blood. Therefore, it is ideal to use within the body. This adhesive has been named HLAA—hydrophobic light-activated adhesive. Karp has since fine-tuned the chemical composition of the glue to optimize its adhesiveness.

To prevent complications and maximize the glue’s adhesive potential in humans, both Karp and Del Nido are testing HLLA’s effects on animals. The watertight seal of the glue is being used to attach patches—a substitute for medical devices that could be used on the heart—to pigs’ hearts. Even when the pig’s heart rates were increased, the patches stayed on the hearts. In addition to pigs, Del Nido’s team has used HLAA to repair heart-wall defects in mice. Gecko Biomedical is also working to develop this cardiac adhesive. They aim to push HLAA forward as a commercial product. Their goal is to bring the surgical glue to patients in Europe within the next two years.

This new cardiac adhesive is projected to pave the way for safer, more effective heart surgeries. However, this is not a 'one-size-fits-all' glue. Further developments must be made to provide a wider range of adhesives to fulfill the needs of all patients.

[Source: MIT Technology Review]