Fixing heart defects typically involves invasive surgery where the patient has his or her heart stopped. A tiny catheter has been developed that can heal holes, without the need for open-heart surgery or suturing into the heart.

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have developed a UV-light enabled catheter that uses a biodegradable glue and patch to fix the hole.

The catheter is directed through a vein in the neck or the groin of the patient to the location of the defect. There, two small expanding balloons are released by the clinician, who also deploys a patch to cover the hole in the tissue.

Photo credit: Boston Children's Hospital

Adhesive coating on the patch (below) is sealed by light reflecting off the balloons to ensure it sticks, while pressure from the two balloons ensures it stays in place.

The patch is biodegradable, so once the tissue has regrown it will naturally dissipate, while the catheter and balloons are withdrawn by the clinician.

During the entire process the patient’s heart is still beating.

Boston Children’s Hospital developed the project along with Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and the Brigham and Women’s hospital.

Conor Walsh, assistant professor at SEAS says the method is a quick way of healing wounds anywhere in the body: "The device is a minimally invasive way to deliver a patch and then activate it using UV light, all within a matter of five minutes and in an atraumatic way that doesn’t require a separate incision."

Photo credit: Boston Children's Hospital

Each patch (above) can be customised depending on the size of the hole, so if necessary the biodegradation period can be extended depending how quickly the tissue grows.

So far the catheter has been tested successfully on animals. The glue will be tested on humans later this year.

Picture credits: Boston Children's Hospital