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

Medtronic, expanded indication, Freezor Xtra Cryoablation Catheter, AVNRT, atrioventricular nodal re-entrant tachycardia
Technology | Ablation Systems| February 16, 2017
Medtronic plc announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its Freezor Xtra Cryoablation Catheter...
Biotronik, ProMRI Configurator tool, MR-conditional cardiac devices, ProMRI SystemCheck
Technology | Implantable Cardiac Monitor (ICM)| February 14, 2017
Biotronik has developed an online tool that streamlines the workflow for physicians selecting the right magnetic...
News | Hypertension| February 13, 2017
Vascular Dynamics Inc. (VDI) announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the company’s...
Xarelto, rivaroxaban, COMPASS study, ends early,
News | Antiplatelet and Anticoagulation Therapies| February 09, 2017
February 9, 2017 — Janssen Research & Development LLC (Janssen) announced that the Phase 3 COMPASS trial is stopp
Abbott, St. Jude Medical, FDA approval, MR-conditional labeling, Assurity pacemaker, Tendril pacing lead
Technology | February 02, 2017
Abbott announced U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for magnetic resonance (MR)-conditional labeling for...
Ohio State, Wexner Medical Center, keeping human hearts alive, track abnormal beats, reanimate, Vadim Fedorov

Part of a donated human heart is reanimated and recorded with four high-definition optic cameras in a laboratory at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Researchers keep the heart tissue alive to look for the causes of irregular heartbeats in cases of persistent atrial fibrillation. Image courtesy of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

News | EP Lab| February 01, 2017
Researchers have developed a technique that allows them to revive parts of human hearts in the laboratory for up to 12...
Sponsored Content | Webinar | Inventory Management| February 01, 2017
How healthy is your cath lab supply chain?
Sponsored Content | Videos | EP Mapping and Imaging Systems| February 01, 2017
The FDA approved the Medtronic CardioInsight electro-anatomical mapping system in early 2017.
medtronic cardioinsight electromapping system, electoanatomical mapping, noninvasive ep mapping

A screen shot of the waveforms and the the 3-D electo-mapping models created using the noninvasive CardioInsight system.

Technology | EP Mapping and Imaging Systems| February 01, 2017
February 1, 2017 — Medtronic received U.S.
cath lab inventory management, RFID tracking
Sponsored Content | Whitepapers | Inventory Management| January 31, 2017
Annual waste for high-value medical devices continues to grow at a rapid pace. With bundled payments putting increase
Overlay Init