A close-up view of the adhesive (pink) interacting with collagen tissue (blue).  Image courtesy of Karp Lab.

A close-up view of the adhesive (pink) interacting with collagen tissue (blue). Image courtesy of Karp Lab.

When a child is born with a heart defect such as a hole in the heart, highly invasive therapies can be challenging due to an inability to quickly and safely secure devices inside of the heart. Sutures take too much time to stitch and can cause stress on fragile heart tissue, and clinical adhesives are either too toxic or tend to lose their sticking power in the presence of blood.

“About 40,000 babies are born with congenital heart defects in the U.S. annually, and those who require treatment contend with multiple surgeries to deliver or replace non-degradable implants that do not grow with young patients,” says Jeffrey Karp, PhD, of BWH’s Division of Biomedical Engineering in the Department of Medicine, co-senior study author of a new study that may improve how surgeons treat congenital heart defects.

In the preclinical study, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital, BWH and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a bio-inspired adhesive that could rapidly attach biodegradable patches inside a beating heart, in the exact place where congenital holes in the heart occur.

Recognizing that many creatures in nature have secretions that repel water, enabling them to attach under wet conditions, researchers developed a material with these properties that is also biodegradable, elastic and biocompatible.

“This adhesive platform addresses all of the drawbacks of previous systems in that it works in the presence of blood and moving structures,” said Pedro del Nido, MD, chief of Cardiac Surgery at Children’s and co-senior study author. “It should provide the physician with a completely new, much simpler technology and a new paradigm for tissue reconstruction to improve the quality of life of patients following surgical procedures.”

Unlike current surgical adhesives, this new adhesive maintains very strong sticking power when in the presence of blood, and even in active environments. The adhesive abilities are activated with ultraviolent (UV) light, providing an on-demand, anti-bleeding seal within five seconds of application to large blood vessels and heart wall defects.

“When we attached patches coated with our adhesive to the walls of a beating heart, the patches remained despite the high pressures of blood flowing through the heart and blood vessels,” said co-first study author Maria Pereira, PhD, of Biomedical Engineering.

The researchers note that their waterproof, light-activated adhesive will be useful in reducing the invasiveness of surgical procedures, as well as operating times, in addition to improving heart surgery outcomes.