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60-Second Science

New Glue Could Seal Heart Surgeries

Inspired by natural adhesives, researchers created an elastic and biocompatible hydrophobic light-activated adhesive that works on wet tissue. Cynthia Graber reports.

About three quarters of a million open-heart surgeries take place annually in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. Applying sutures or staples during these procedures costs precious seconds and can cause damage. Researchers have sought adhesives that could quickly seal tissue. But currently available substances don’t work in the presence of liquid or can’t withstand all that forceful pumping or are toxic.

So an international team of scientists looked for clues from nature’s glues. They examined slugs, sandcastle worms and the footpads of insects. These organisms release sticky secretions that function even when wet.

Inspired by the natural adhesives, the research team created their own. It only becomes active when exposed to UV light, thus giving surgeons control. Once stuck in place, it seals tissue, remains intact in blood, and stays strong and flexible enough to withstand blood flow and the force of a heartbeat. And it’s biodegradable.

The substance is described in the journal Science Translational Medicine. [Nora Lang et al., A Blood-Resistant Surgical Glue for Minimally Invasive Repair of Vessels and Heart Defects]

The glue and patches infused with it have done well on pigs’ hearts. If human studies show the necessary safety and efficacy, such light-activated patches could make closing some surgical sites like fixing a bike tire.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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