Fix for a Broken Heart

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Thomas Graser/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

A falling apple led to the discovery of gravity. The most abstract of things can inspire scientists and their inspiration can lead to the most amazing discoveries. I recently read an article about a pretty fascinating new innovation: glue that can fix a broken heart.

During complex and minimally invasive surgeries like open-heart procedures, physicians require materials that can reconnect tissues while withstanding constant blood flow in the body. Generally sutures or staples are used to repair damaged tissue but they can sometimes be responsible for cell death.

So, scientists are always researching techniques that are biocompatible and non-invasive. The idea of using an adhesive for tissue repair is not new. Currently there are several FDA approved tissue adhesives commercially available in the market. But, these adhesives can either only be used superficially or are not long-term biocompatible to the human body.

However, Scientists at Harvard Medical School, MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a new glue that mimics adhesive properties found in nature, according to the Journal Science

So, what inspired them? Sandcastle worms and slimy little creatures called slugs! Slugs produce thick, sticky and hydrophobic (water-repellent) mucus that coats their body and keeps them from sliding off on watery surfaces. Sand castle worms produce glue that enables them to stick to rocks underwater.

Scientists have created an adhesive that mimics characteristics of glue from these animals along with being biocompatible, blood and water repellent. The glue is a hydrophobic (repelled by water), light-activated adhesive (HLAA) made from a polymer called poly (glycerol sebacate acrylate) PGSA and a photo-initiator. (Photo-initiators are molecules that, on exposure to light, can initiate the crosslinking of small molecules into larger chain-like structures.) This glue can be used during invasive procedures on blood vessels, heart and intestines.

So, how does it work? This is the interesting part. When PGSA and the photo-initiator are mixed, the solution is a thick viscous liquid, but when this solution is exposed to UV light the solution solidifies into a gel like malleable structure and locks itself in by interaction with the collagen fibers present in the tissue.

The gel can be used to create a leak-proof seal inside the body because it is non-toxic and can bind to tissues and polymers in presence of blood/water. This glue can be used to quickly seal up open wounds in trauma patients, to glue implanted medical devices in patients and on neonates born with congenital heart defects.

The adhesive has been tested for in-vivo use in animal models and the results are promising. But further testing is required to study the efficacy of the adhesive in humans. Researchers are expecting the glue to be available in two-three years after human clinical trials have been conducted. 

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