Feature | September 06, 2013

Researchers Aim to Use Light — Not Electric Jolts — to Restore Healthy Heartbeats

Johns Hopkins-led research team explores the field of optogenetics

September 6, 2013 — When a beating heart slips into an irregular, life-threatening rhythm, the treatment is well known: deliver a burst of electric current from a pacemaker or defibrillator. 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.

In a paper published Aug. 28, 2013, in the online journal Nature Communications, 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 say 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,” said the project’s supervisor, Natalia Trayanova, the Murray B. Sachs professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins. “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.”

To achieve this, Trayanova’s team is diving into the field of optogenetics, which is only about a decade old. Pioneered by scientists at Stanford, optogenetics refers to the insertion of light-responsive proteins called opsins into cells. When exposed to light, these proteins become tiny portals within the target cells, allowing a stream of ions — an electric charge — to pass through. Early researchers have begun using this tactic to control the bioelectric behavior of certain brain cells, forming a first step toward treating psychiatric disorders with light.

In the Nature Communications paper, the researchers reported that they had successfully tested this same technique on a heart -- one that “beats” inside a computer. Trayanova has spent many years developing highly detailed computer models of the heart that can simulate cardiac behavior from the molecular and cellular levels all the way up to that of the heart as a whole.

As detailed in the journal article, the Johns Hopkins computer model for treating the heart with light incorporates biological data from the Stony Brook lab of Emilia Entcheva, an associate professor of biomedical engineering. The Stony Brook collaborators are working on techniques to make heart tissue light-sensitive by inserting opsins into some cells. They also will test how these cells respond when illuminated.

In Trayanova’s own lab, her team members will use this model to conduct virtual experiments. They will try to determine how to position and control the light-sensitive cells to help the heart maintain a healthy rhythm and pumping activity. They will also try to gauge how much light is needed to activate the healing process. The overall goal is to use the computer model to push the research closer to the day when doctors can begin treating their heart patients with gentle light beams. The researchers say it could happen within a decade.

After the technology is honed through the computer modeling tests, it could be incorporated into light-based pacemakers and defibrillators.

For more information: www.nature.com/ncomms

Related Content

INRatio, Alere, Abbott, I and R testing, INR testing
Feature | Point of Care Testing| December 07, 2016
December 7, 2016 — Abbott has filed a complaint to terminate its proposed acquisition of Alere based on the substanti
TCT 2016, TCT.16, main arena, late breaking trials, transcatheter cardiovascular therapeutics

There were several hot topics that came out of the 2016 Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics (TCT) annual meeting Oct. 29 - Nov. 2, which made this month's top 20 list, including several videos. Number 4 on the list of content was the result of the EXCEL Trial key TCT late-breaker, which showed stenting is equal in outcomes to surgery for the first time, when using one of the latest generation drug-eluting stents. 

Feature | December 05, 2016
December 5, 2016 — Here is the list of the top 20 most popular pieces of content on the Diagnostic and Interventional
Boston Scientific, HeartLogic Heart Failure Diagnostic Service, MultiSENSE trial data, AHA Scientific Sessions 2016
News | Heart Failure| November 18, 2016
Boston Scientific recently announced results from the first clinical trial evaluating the performance of the HeartLogic...
atrial fibrillation, warfarin, dementia, Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, American Heart Association, AHA Scientific Sessions 2016
News | Atrial Fibrillation| November 15, 2016
Atrial fibrillation patients who use warfarin to lower risk of stroke are at higher risk of developing dementia than...
Medtronic, Claria MRI Quad CRT-D SureScan, FDA approval
Technology | Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy Devices (CRT)| November 15, 2016
Medtronic plc  has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the Claria MRI Quad Cardiac...
catheter ablations, atrial fibrillation, stroke risk, Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute study, AHA Scientific Sessions, American Heart Association
News | Ablation Systems| November 14, 2016
Atrial fibrillation patients with a prior history of stroke who undergo catheter ablation lower their long-term risk of...
Sponsored Content | Videos | Heart Valve Technology| November 14, 2016
William Abraham, M.D., FACC, discusses advances in heart failure device treatment technologies at the Transcatheter C
genetic testing, sudden cardiac death of teen, Mayo Clinic Proceedings
News | Genetic Testing| November 09, 2016
The recent, sudden death of a 13-year-old boy resulted in more than 20 relatives being incorrectly diagnosed as having...
transcatheter aortic valve replacement, pacemakers, implantation, post-TAVR implantation, worse outcomes, study
News | EP Lab| November 09, 2016
Patients who undergo minimally invasive heart valve replacement, known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR...
Overlay Init