When babies are born with congenital heart defects, like a hole, time is of the essence to quickly and safely secure a device inside the heart. Sutures take too long and can cause damage to fragile heart tissue, and currently available adhesives are either too toxic or lose their sticking power in the presence of blood or under dynamic conditions, such as in a beating heart, according to Jeffrey Karp, PhD, Division of Biomedical Engineering, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Department of Medicine, Boston, MA, and co-senior study author of a new study that may improve how surgeons treat congenital heart defects.

The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, reports that a group of researchers from Boston Children's Hospital, BWH, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a new bio-inspired adhesive that could rapidly attach biodegradable patches within a beating heart where congenital holes in the heart occur, such as with ventricular heart defects.

The researchers developed a material that is viscous, repels liquids, is biodegradable, elastic, and biocompatible. They say that patches secured with their glue remained attached even at increased heart rates and blood pressure. Unlike current surgical adhesives, this new adhesive maintains very strong sticking power when in the presence of blood, and even in active environments. In addition, the adhesive patch is biodegradable and biocompatible, so nothing foreign or toxic stays in the bodies of these patients.

Its adhesive abilities are activated with ultraviolet (UV) light, providing an on-demand, anti-bleeding seal within five seconds of UV light application when applied to high-pressure large blood vessels and cardiac wall defects.

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.