When the cardiac (a medical term for things pertaining to the heart) muscle is pierced, death is often the result. All of our blood rushes through the chambers of the heart, so when those chambers are opened up, the blood can be forced out by the very beats that normally propel the blood through our bodies, keeping us alive. In such a case, internal bleeding can be fatal in a very short amount of time. Medical professionals have long sought a way to seal small wounds to the heart, with little success. However, a newly developed “biological glue” may be just what is needed to save the lives of people suffering from small piercings of the heart.

Activation and adherence

The new, as-yet-unnamed, bio-glue was developed by Chinese researchers seeking a way to stop the uncontrollable bleeding from arteries and the heart, which are often too fragile to repair and too slippery to get a traditional adhesive to stick to. The new bio-glue takes the form of a hydrogel (a gel that is water-based), which is able to adhere to the walls of the cardiac tissue or to arteries and veins. Ultra-violet (UV) light is used to activate the important components of the glue, which makes it transform from a non-sticky substance which doctors can spread and work with, to a strong adhesive which can hold itself in place and seal up wounds in seconds.

Testing and proof of effectiveness

While the biological glue has not yet been used on a human subject, extensive testing has been done on animals, particularly rabbits and pigs which have similar cardiac tissues to those in human bodies. The research team has even released a video of such a test, which can be viewed here. Fair warning, the video does show an open liver with a wound being sealed shut with the new glue, so it may be inappropriate for some viewers.

The video does show just how well the new glue works, however! It adheres to the flesh much more soundly than other medical adhesives and binds the wound closed much faster than even the most skilled surgeon could suture it closed. In less than half a minute, the wounded liver goes from gushing blood to not bleeding at all, the wound healed in check by the bio-glue, which hardens in place with just several seconds exposure to UV light.

The experts behind the study are quoted saying, “It is the first time that high-pressure bleeding of a beating heart with six-millimeter diameter cardiac penetration holes was rapidly stopped and the wounds were stably sealed by only using matrix gel within 20 [seconds] without suture,”

Comparison to similar adhesives

While medical researchers have created some products similar to this newest bio-glue, they all have problems. Most commonly, other medical adhesives contain harmful chemicals, which this new glue does not, being completely non-toxic. Other medical adhesives also often require sutures on top of the glue to keep the wound contained for more than a brief time, whereas this new glue can hold all by itself, removing the need for sutures, which can cause their own problems.

The bio-glue has been developed especially for use in repairing wounds of the cardiac system, where blood is trying to escape under pressure. When the glue is applied correctly, it can withstand up to 290 mmHg (a medical unit of pressure), far more than is normally seen in even the most intense wounds. The substance the bio-glue is composed of is also very similar to human connective tissue, which is part of why it is able to bind so strongly with other tissues in the human body.

Several pigs have undergone heart surgery where this glue was used to repair wounds, and they have shown no signs of problems as of yet with the new glue. This leads the researchers to believe that it would be equally effective on people in 3 to 5 years!