A study recently published in Circulation: Arrhythmia & Electrophysiology, a journal of the American Heart Association, details a new technique that could result in a light-controlled pacemaker. The technique uses low-energy light to stimulate heart muscle cells.
Researchers created cells expressing the light-sensitive protein channelrhodopsin 2 and coupled them with heart muscle cells from animals, according to an American Heart Association press release. The light triggered heart muscle contractions that could not be distinguished from contractions triggered by electricity.
In the future, cells from a patient’s bone marrow or skin could be used and cultured and modified to respond to light. This would mean a reduced risk that the patient’s immune system would reject the cells.
The pacemaker would use biocompatible, flexible plastic optic fibers instead of metal leads, according to the press release. It is possible that the pacemaker would require only one-tenth of the energy of conventional pacemakers, meaning that the battery could last 50 years instead of five.
“Electronic cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators are well established and successful technologies, but they are not without problems, including the breakage of metal leads, limited battery life and interference from strong magnetic fields,” said Emilia Entcheva, PhD, in the press release. Entcheva is the senior author of the study and Associate Professor of biomedical engineering at Stony Brook University (Stony Brook, New York, USA).
The introduction of light-sensitive proteins into cells in order to control their activities is part of the field of optogenetics. This type of stimulation can turn off and on single cells remotely, which is not possible by electrical stimulation.Camilla Andersson