A team of scientists from Oxford University and Stony Brook University in New York have discovered a new way to control heart waves using light. Their newly developed method uses optogenetics, a form of genetic modification that allows cells to be manipulated using light. A recently released paper from the team “details how they used optogenetics to precisely control the activity of millions of cardiac cells.”
Their method allows them to counteract abnormal heartbeats caused by fibrosis or scar tissue on the heart. A special light-receptive protein often found in algae is supplied to heart cells using gene therapy, making the heart cells responsive to light. Then the researchers used a light projector controlled by a computer to control various aspects of heart rhythms, such as speed and direction. Since the method is new, it will take years to fine-tune it but the optogenetic method has the potential of providing the most precise way to affect heart waves, according to the scientists. They are also interested in seeing if it can be used on other parts of the human body such as the brain.
Stony Brook University, Researchers Find Way to Control Heart Waves With Light, Newswise.com, October 19, 2015.