A new 'biological glue' developed by Chinese researchers could one day stop hearts and arteries from uncontrollably bleeding.
Placed on an open wound and activated through UV light, this life-saving sealant rapidly morphs into a non-toxic hydrogel, capable of withstanding both slippery surfaces and the pulsing of heart tissue.
The adhesive sealant hasn't been tested on human organs just yet, but when a prototype was used inside pigs and rabbits, it performed much better than sutures or other currently available surgical glues.
The proof of concept, the authors say, is best watched in real time. Placed on a gushing liver wound in the video below, the glue can be seen solidifying under UV light, until at last, the red eruption is successfully held back. The whole process takes less than half a minute.
"It is the first time that high-pressure bleeding of a beating heart with 6 millimetre diameter cardiac penetration holes was rapidly stopped and the wounds were stably sealed by only using matrix gel within 20 [seconds] without suture," the authors conclude, adding that while some other similar materials do exist, many also contain harmful chemicals and may require extra sutures afterwards.
The new prototype has neither problem. During rabbit surgery, the light-activated gel was able to stop a bleeding liver cut and a femoral artery section in mere seconds.
During pig surgery, it closed up a punctured carotid artery in well under a minute, while also repairing holes in the cardiac wall.
Finely tuned for its purpose, the gel can withstand up to 290 mmHg blood pressure, which is much higher than what most doctors and nurses usually deal with, and far beyond what some other glues can handle.
What's more, 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 bind easier to arterial and cardiac walls.
The result is that all three pigs survived the life-threatening heart surgery. Reared for two weeks more, they even showed natural signs of healing with little inflammation to speak of.
"The hydrogel also effectively sealed the heart wound after [two] weeks, and almost no necrosis and very little inflammation were observed at the wound interface in pathology section staining, confirming the excellent biocompatibility of the matrix hydrogel," the authors report.
While it's true that pig livers are a similar size to human livers, the team now needs to prove that their findings fully translate to a clinical setting.
Ever hopeful, tissue engineer Hongwei Ouyang - one of the study authors - told ScienceAlert he thinks the product could be ready for human surgical use in the next 3 to 5 years.
The prospect for surgery and emergency situations is tantalising, and it's a dream that several companies around the world have been racing towards. For instance, a recently-created 'elastic' glue can reportedly seal off a lung or artery wound 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 hold of a slippery, beating heart.
This study has been published in Nature Communications.