A team of scientists from Bristol University has developed a technique, using luciferase, to measure energy levels in living heart cells that will aid in detecting damage to heart cells after a heart attack.
The scientists expect this technique to pave way for rapid recovery from cardiac arrests and heart surgery. This study was published in the Friday's issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Dr Elinor Griffiths and her team carried out a detailed investigation on cell mitochondria - the powerhouse of cells. Energy from food is converted into ATP chemical energy by mitochondria.
In order to study the working of a heart cell mitochondria, the researchers used the protein; luciferase, usually present in the tails of fireflies. Luciferase glows in the presence of ATP. Thus, the intensity of light serves as a meter to measure the amount of ATPs generated by the mitochondria.
"Exactly how mitochondria tailor the supply of ATP to demand is not fully known. But being able to directly measure cellular ATP levels should aid understanding," said Dr. Griffiths.
Generally, heart cells have the capacity to produce energy rapidly. But, the researchers have discovered an energy lag when the cells have to begin beating suddenly from a state of rest, like after a cardiac arrest. This pause could possibly alter the normal beating of heart and sequentially deteriorate the patient's condition.
"We know already during cardiac surgery these energy levels within the heart will drop because surgeons have to stop the heart when they operate on it. Eventually, we hope to find a way to either prevent the energy levels from dropping or enable them to recover very quickly," she said.
"Drugs are already in existence to help protect mitochondria from damage and preserve their function. If we can get those into the heart at the right time then we could protect the mitochondria and get them to produce more energy," she added.
Prof. Peter Weissberg, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said, "This work is at the cutting edge of molecular imaging and allows scientists to follow, in real time, what is happening to the energy supply inside heart cells."