Maria Pereira is always carrying a small, thumb-sized vial of glue wherever she goes. It’s her good luck charm, and could also be the solution to one of surgery’s oldest problems.
Her glue concoction could be the key to seal wounds and holes in the body without damaging the body itself during surgery.
Today, physicians mostly rely on stitches – an extremely old technique dating all the way back to ancient Egypt – to close wounds. Despite refining the technique over the years, the method is still susceptible to infection, irritation and scarring.
Pereira, the head of research at Paris-based medical-device startup Gecko Biomedical, could be the woman to change that.
“Innovation in science is the key to improving people’s lives,” said the 30-year-old.
“From day one, Maria was all in on all levels,” added Jeff Karp, her former research supervisor. “Because of her passion for learning and for making the world a better place, she really exhibited the steepest learning and growth curve of anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Karp and Pereira joined forces when the Boston Children’s Hospital approached Karp for an alternative way to seal wounds addressing congenital heart defects. Karp thought Pereira was the ideal choice to assist his research.
There was a desperate need for a better solution: nearly 1 in every 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect, and it’s a leading cause of infant deaths in the U.S. Suturing methods wouldn’t work, as the heart is fragile, plus would grow and need additional procedures in the future.
Pereira began developing a glue that could stick in the body’s harshest environment: the heart. It would need to be able to stick in the wet and dynamic conditions of a beating heart, as well as possess hydrophobic (to repel blood away from the surface), biodegradable and nontoxic properties.
Her glue compound met all of those criteria, and more. The solution amazingly sticks into place only when the surgeon shines a light on it, giving them control of the delivery process.
Karp was so impressed by the glue he co-founded Gecko Biomedical in Paris, and quickly appointed Pereira to get the glue from the lab to clinic-ready.
The company has raised roughly $11 million to advance the work on the surgical glue. And with clinical trials due to start at the end of this year, the material could reach operating tables as early as 2017.
If it does, she’ll have completely revolutionized modern day surgery.