An infrared laser can make a heart beat faster, recent research proves, which may help in understanding reasons for congenital defects.
Case Western Reserve University and Vanderbilt University researchers have found that pulsed light can pace contractions in an avian embryonic heart, with no apparent damage to the tissue, reports Nature.
According to the scientists, this non-invasive device may prove an effective tool in understanding how environmental factors that alter an embryo's heart rate lead to congenital defects.
It may also lead to investigations of cardiac electrophysiology at the cellular, tissue and organ levels, and possibly the development of a new generation of pacemakers.
"The mechanisms behind many congenital defects are not well known. But, there is a suspicion that when the early embryonic heart beats slower or faster than normal, that changes gene regulation and changes development," said Michael Jenkins of the Case Western Reserve.
"If we can precisely control pacing, we could figure out how structure, function and gene expression all work together," said Michiko Watanabe of Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.
The investigators believe a pulse of infrared light creates a temperature gradient in heart tissue that opens ion channels in a cascade along a heart cell. This effect spurs along an electrical impulse that makes the heart contract.
It's early in the research, "but we think this has exciting implications, especially if we can extend this into the adult heart," said Andrew Rollins of Case Western Reserve.
The work, "Optical pacing of the embryonic heart," was published in Nature Photonics.