After having several bad teeth removed last year, a 10-year-old bulldog from South Boston had a hole in the roof of his mouth that just wouldn't heal. After three unsuccessful surgeries and no other options, an innovative tissue glue was used to heal the wound.
Now, Little Papi, named after the Boston Red Sox slugger David "Big Papi" Ortiz, is playing and going in Wednesday for a checkup.
The decision to cross the line between human and animal care was made when the wound from Papi's oronasal fistula would not close. William Rosenblad, Papi's dental surgeon at MSPCA's Angell Animal Medical Center, reached out to Jeffrey Karp, a PhD bioengineer at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and his team.
The two met at a conference last spring at the New England Aquarium where Karp was giving a talk about his tissue adhesives. Karp never imagined his bioglue would be used for pets, but Rosenblad saw the potential.
"It's nice to get published papers in academic journals, but to actually make a difference is what we all strive for, and this has really been a remarkable opportunity," said Karp.
The tissue adhesive is made of chains of molecules that already exist in the body. The glue has a honey-like consistency and after it is applied, an ultraviolet light bonds the chains together. It hardens but maintains its elasticity, like a rubber band.
Cells grow over the adhesive to create more tissue, and when the glue naturally dissolves in the body, patients are left with their own tissue covering the wound.
Rosenblad cleaned the wound, applied the glue, and covered the hole with tissue in the mouth to seal it. He said it was a detailed procedure, but that Papi went home that afternoon. When the bulldog went in for his two week checkup, his surgeon and owner, John Shanahan, got emotional.
"I feel very fortunate because there was nothing else they could do," said Shanahan. "When [Rosenblad] mentioned that he knew someone with an adhesive in a trial phase, I thought, I have no other choice. My dog has a hole in his mouth where an infection could have taken over and killed him."
Karp has been working on several tissue adhesives in his lab for the past 10 years. These glues can go on the skin, inside the heart, and on blood vessels. Oronasal fistulas are common in cats and dogs, but it is also a common complication from cleft palate surgery. Karp cofounded a company called Gecko Biomedical and will be testing his tissue glue on people later this year for vascular reconstruction.
"I used to say that one of my major goals was to translate technology to patients," said Karp. "I now expanded that goal to include not just humans, but also animals."