When it comes to mending a broken heart, researchers say they may have found the key. And it comes in the form of a slug-inspired glue.
Most heart defects today are fixed via surgeries that involve stitches or staples. But these sutures can do damage to the heart’s fragile tissue, especially because the heart still has to stretch and strain to pump blood as it heals. And while surgical glues do exist, they are meant to close up skin wounds—some are toxic while others simply can’t stick to a wet, beating heart.
Inspired by Slugs
But what can stick to slippery surfaces and still move around? Slugs. These slimy creatures secrete extremely sticky adhesives that (as the hikers among you may know) work even on rain-wet rocks and mud-slicked trails.
A team from Boston Children’s Hospital and MIT mimicked the slug’s slime in the lab and came up with an adhesive that is über sticky, water- and blood-proof, and dries in seconds via UV light. It’s even biodegradable.
Sticking to the Heart
To test the glue, researchers used pig hearts, which are pretty anatomically close to the human version. The hearts had holes in some of the trickiest spots to mend: pulsing cardiac walls and big, high-pressure blood vessels.
The researchers applied the glue, which they call “hydrophobic light-activated adhesive” or HLAA, to small biodegradable patches, which they affixed to the holes. They then shone a UV light to activate the adhesive. In less than five seconds, the holes were sealed, and the stretchy sealant held for a 24-hour monitoring period.
In the real world, glued patches would need to stay in place long enough for the heart to heal over the wound, so long-term testing is necessary and next on the researchers’ list.
Super Glue to the Rescue
The slug-inspired glue could lead to less-invasive surgeries and faster healing times, which is good news for the 40,000 babies born with congenital heart defects in the U.S. each year. The researchers say it could also be used on other slippery moving parts like the intestines, as well as emergency surgeries where quick sutures are necessary to take care of a trauma.
The paper, published in Science Translational Medicine, suggests this stuff could be ready to roll out to market in two to three years, assuming long-term trials and human testing prove successful.