Medical researchers look to replace sutures with glue

October 6, 2011 8:26:01 PM PDT
Some of the most delicate surgeries depend on a surgeon's ability to place sutures in tiny blood vessels. But now researchers at Stanford University believe they've come up with a better system, one that replaces sutures with glue.

"I thought of this while I was in New YorkCity ; I was trying to sew on the fingertip of a very small baby, it took me about five or six hours and it was very challenging, and I thought, 'Gee, there must be a better way,'" Dr. Geoffrey Gurtner said.

Gurtner's "better way" involves replacing the traditional micro-thin sutures, which can often rip or tear tiny blood vessels. Instead Gurtner proposed a different technique using glue.

But there was a catch.

"Just like a blood vessel, it's difficult then to glue these things, if you get glue on the inside, you in essence can glue the blood vessel shut," Gurtner said.

To get around that problem, he needed a way to keep blood vessels open. The answer was a gooey gel known as poloxamer-407. It's a liquid at room temperature, but chemical engineering Professor Gerald Fuller says the gel changes when it's heated.

"You would slightly elevate it above body temperature and we've designed the material so at that elevated temperature it becomes a gel, it becomes a solid," Fuller said.

That means surgeons can inject the polymer as a liquid into the clamped off blood vessels. Adding heat turns it into a semi-solid bridge to hold the vessels in place from the inside. Surgeons can then apply glue from the outside, creating a suture-free seal.

"And as soon as the body temperature blood hits that plug of poloxamer, then it turns back into liquid and the blood flows," Gurtner said.

He says the polymer, which has so-far only been tested in animal models, is FDA approved for other uses in humans. He hopes to start clinical trials in the near future.

Gurtner's team is in the process of testing different types of adhesives to see which ones are the most effective.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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