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Maria Nunes Pereira

, 28


Tak-Sing Wong

Patching holes in the hearts of sick infants.

Each year, an estimated 40,000 babies in the United States alone are born with congenital heart defects. Some are treated with open-heart surgery, which is invasive and can be risky. Sutures or staples are used to close the holes between the chambers of the heart, but these can damage the fragile tissue. Additional surgery may also be needed as the tissue grows.  

Maria Nunes Pereira has created a biocompatible glue that a surgeon could use to patch the holes in the hearts of these infants. It can be applied and activated during a minimally invasive procedure. And the adhesive is strong and flexible enough to work in one of the harshest environments in the body—inside a beating heart. Unlike sutures and staples, the glue doesn’t harm the tissue when it’s applied to the heart, and it doesn’t need to be replaced as the child grows. 

Pereira developed the glue as a graduate student in the MIT-Portugal program; working with a team of surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, she demonstrated the adhesive inside a beating pig heart. The procedure required only a single incision. Today, she works at a startup called Gecko Biomedical in Paris, where she is hoping to adapt the technology to human patients within the next two years. 

The material could be used in other parts of the body where repairs are invasive or require potentially damaging sutures. “I think these materials have potential to change how surgery is performed and how defects in the body are closed,” she says. 

—Alexandra Morris

Watch this Innovator at EmTech 2014
Meet the Innovators Under 35

Credit: Illustration by Sam Kerr

Tagged: EmTech2014

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