A new "biological glue" developed by Chinese researchers could one day prevent hearts and arteries from bleeding uncontrollably.
Placed in an open wound and activated by UV light, this life-saving sealant quickly transforms into a non-toxic hydrogel, able to withstand both slippery surfaces and the pulsation of cardiac tissue.
Adhesive sealant has not yet been tested on human organs, but when a prototype was used inside pigs and rabbits, it fared better than sutures or other surgical adhesives currently available.
Proof of concept, say the authors, is best observed in real time. Placed in a wound in the liver below, the glue can be seen solidifying under UV light, until finally the red rash is successfully retained. The entire process takes less than half a minute.
"It is the first time that high blood pressure bleeding from a beating heart with 6 mm diameter heart penetration holes was quickly discontinued and the wounds were stably sealed using only matrix gel within 20 [seconds] without sutures, "the authors conclude, adding that while there are other similar materials, many also contain harmful chemicals and may require extra sutures later.
The new prototype has no problem. During rabbit surgery, the light-activated gel was able to interrupt a cut of liver with bleeding and a section of the femoral artery in just seconds.
During the pig's surgery, a perforated carotid artery was closed in less than a minute while repairing the holes in the cardiac wall.
Finely tuned for its purpose, the gel can withstand up to 290 mmHg of blood pressure, which is much higher than most doctors and nurses usually deal with, and far beyond what other glues can withstand.
In addition, because it is based on the structure of human connective tissue, the extracellular matrix of this glue is compatible with internal organs and arteries, allowing it to attach more easily to the arterial and cardiac walls.
The result is that all three pigs survived life-threatening heart surgery. Created for two more weeks, they even showed natural signs of healing with little inflammation to speak.
"The hydrogel also effectively sealed the injured heart after [two] weeks, and almost no necrosis and very little inflammation were observed at the interface of the wound in the staining of the pathological section, confirming the excellent biocompatibility of the hydrogel matrix, "report the authors.
While it is true that pig livers are about the same size as human livers, the team now needs to prove that their findings translate entirely into a clinical setting.
Always hopeful, tissue engineer Hongwei Ouyang – one of the authors of the study – told ScienceAlert he thinks the product may be ready for human surgical use in the next 3 to 5 years.
The prospect of surgery and emergency situations is tempting, and it is a dream that several companies around the world are running. For example, a newly created "elastic" glue can isolate a lung or artery from air or water in 60 seconds, also using UV light.
In a sense, Ouyang and his colleagues have created a cardiac equivalent: a unique glue that can somehow grab a slippery, pulsating heart.
This study was published in Communications of nature.