Spray-on hydrogel prevents dangerous adhesions after heart surgery

Surgeons operate on heart.

Researchers are reporting development of a hydrogel that prevents the formation of dangerous adhesions, bands of scar-like tissue that cause surrounding tissues to stick together after surgery. The antistick substance showed promising results in animal studies. 

Adhesions are a fairly common complication of surgery. They occur in about 20% of heart surgery cases each year and also can occur in other parts of the body. In the case of heart surgery, they can interfere with normal heart function or prevent repeat surgeries that might be needed at the same site. In some cases, they can increase the risk of death during repeat interventions. Doctors need a way to prevent these adhesions. 

To make the hydrogel, the researchers combined polyethylene glycol, commonly used in nonstick coatings, with catechol, a substance similar to what mussels use to adhere to rocks. This results in a coating that sticks to organs and also creates a protective barrier for several weeks before eventually dissolving. The researchers also designed a device to accurately spray the hydrogel onto the areas where the surgery will be preformed. 
In lab tests using rats, the nonstick coating prevented the formation of adhesions. In a pilot test using pigs, the researchers observed less severe adhesions that were easier to remove. The coating did not result in inflammation or swelling, they say.  Studies using human subjects are anticipated within the next two years. Their study, funded by the NHLBI, appeared in Nature Communications.