This New Worm-Inspired Surgical Glue Can Mend Wet, Squishy Heart Tissue

The great irony of trying to fix ruptured blood vessels is that you have to suture or staple, basically poking holes in the very thing you're trying to mend. But now, scientists have developed a light-activated glue for mending internal wounds that is pretty darn incredible.

Just how incredible? Let's count the ways in which using glue to mend, say, a broken heart, is quite a challenge:

  1. I mean, have you ever tried to glue something wet?
  2. How about something that keeps moving and pumping?
  3. Oh, the glue also has to be non-toxic.
  4. And biodegradable.
  5. But not too degradable because it needs to stick around until the tissue heals.

Those are some of tough criteria for surgical glue. But a team of engineers and doctors in Boston have developed a material, described in the journal Science Translational Medicine, that satisfies all of the above. The polymer, made of non-toxic glycerol and sebacic acid, goes on as a viscous gel. A quick curing with ultraviolet light bonds the molecules together into a flexible adhesive.

The glue has been tested in pig hearts, and humans trials are up next. It could be an especial benefit to babies, whose tiny hearts are difficult to suture or staple. While surgical glue can be used on skin incisions, none of them work well inside the body because of toxicity or lack of flexibility.

Inspiration for this glue came from the natural world, where animals secrete viscous, waterproof materials. The sandcastle worm, for instance, lives on beaches in California, where it glues together bits of sand into a tube it inhabits. Like a heart mended with glue, the sandcastle worm's tube needs to stay intact even in a wet environment.

Jeff Karps, one of the senior authors on this study, has created other bio-inspired medical devices in the past, such as a porcupine quill-like needle and parasitic-worm-inspired adhesive.

After all, evolution has been solving engineering problems for millions of years—and, sometimes, it helps to take a look around. [Science Translational Medicine via The Scientist]

Image courtesy of Randal McKenzie (McKenzie Illustrations)