Kids' health

Sticky fix: Surgeons using 'super glue' to mend brains

June 11, 2013 at 4:10 PM ET

Video: Doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital use super glue to treat an infant suffering from a hemorrhaging brain aneurysm. KSHB’s Jadiann Thompson reports.

A 3-week-old girl was recovering Tuesday from life-saving brain surgery after Kansas surgeons used a sterile surgical glue to seal the infant's bleeding aneurysm.

The baby, Ashlyn Julian, has shown no complications from the June 5 procedure at The University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., and is expected to head home following another week or so of monitoring, said Bob Hallinan, hospital spokesman.

"It's the first time that superglue has been used to fix a baby who is so young — superglue alone," Dr. Koji Ebersole, a neurosurgeon and part of the Kansas operation team told NBC affiliate KSHB-TV.

To deliver the dollop of medical glue to the precise spot of leak, Kansas Hospital surgeons used the smallest adult-sized catheter available, worming it into her leg artery all the way up and through the baby girl's body to her brain. Ebersole and others next used a micro-wire that ran inside the catheter to administer the glue to the aneurysm.

"We thinned the baby's blood so she would make clots on top of our instruments, but we were going all or nothing at that point and I thought we could get it done," Ebersole said.

The procedure was pioneered by a New York City neurology professor Dr. Alejandro Berenstein. Since concocting that homespun fix, he said he has healed the brains of hundreds of children with tiny dabs of glue.

“Probably, if I’ve done anything good in my life is treat these babies with the vein of Galen (malformation), practically a lethal disease,” Berenstein, a professor of radiology, neurology, and neurosurgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine the Bronx, N.Y., said in a 2011 TEDMED talk. That malformation — a blood-bubble in the brain similar to a cerebral aneurysm — can congest the heart or crush the brain, he said.

In cases of arterial malformations like the one in the Kansas baby, the micro-catheter is placed into an artery in a lower part of the body, eventually reaching the potentially lethal abnormality in the brain — all the while carrying a glob of adhesive similar to the substance found in most junk drawers.

“We treat it now with this fancy, sophisticated acrylic. All of you know this thing. We call it Krazy Glue,” Berenstein said in his TEDMED lecture.

The glue is released to seal off “the short circuit” between the artery and a corresponding vein, said Berenstein, “We have reconstructed the normal anatomy and got rid of this big bubble. These kids used to die. … We’ve gotten over 250 of these kids treated already and about 70 or 80 percent of them, we get them normal,” Berenstein said.

When he wanted to use glue to treat his initial patient with that cerebral flaw, the hospital didn’t carry the necessary acrylic.

“The first one,” he said, “we actually got it from the hardware store.”

Berenstein is searching the globe for a natural adhesive to replace the surgical variety. But during a phone interview with NBC News, he said the epoxy works well because it acts as a "fast polymerization tissue adhesive," allowing it to harden even when drenched in blood.

Krazy Glue isn't the first household item to find its way — surgically and purposefully — into the human body to serve as a repair tool.

According to Berenstein, some doctors are using polyurethane to repair shoulders or hernias. Normally, that yellowish spongy material is found in bed pillows or in the padded backs of desk chairs. When tucked by surgeons into injured crevices, he said, polyurethane acts like a honeycomb, allowing new cells and tissue to grow within the holes and fill in the space.

Meanwhile, baby Ashlyn will spend a few more days having the fluids from the aneurysm drain and is expected to make a full recovery.

"You can't even say thank you," Ashlyn's mother Gina Julian told KSHB-TV. "I mean, thank you is not enough, but, thank you."

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