Light could replace electric jolts to restore healthy heartbeats

Last Updated: Aug 29, 2013, 19:10 PM IST

Washington: When a beating heart slips into an irregular, life-threatening rhythm, delivering a burst of electric current from a pacemaker or defibrillator is the treatment most commonly known.

But because the electricity itself can cause pain, tissue damage and other serious side-effects, a Johns Hopkins-led research team wants to replace these jolts with a kinder, gentler remedy: light.

Five biomedical engineers from Johns Hopkins and Stony Brook universities described their plan to use biological lab data and an intricate computer model to devise a better way to heal ailing hearts.

Other scientists are already using light-sensitive cells to control certain activities in the brain.

The Johns Hopkins-Stony Brook researchers said that they plan to give this technique a cardiac twist so that doctors in the near future will be able to use low-energy light to solve serious heart problems such as arrhythmia .

"Applying electricity to the heart has its drawbacks," the project`s supervisor, Natalia Trayanova, the Murray B. Sachs Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins, said.

"When we use a defibrillator, it`s like blasting open a door because we don`t have the key. It applies too much force and too little finesse. We want to control this treatment in a more intelligent way. We think it`s possible to use light to reshape the behavior of the heart without blasting it," she said.

The research is published online in the journal Nature Communications.