Scientists at the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, have developed a new approach to mend irregular heartbeat with light beams instead of pacemakers.
They could regulate the beating of the heart by focusing a gene and light-based therapy called optogenetics on the hearts' proteins.
The results could profoundly improve the treatment of heart problems and make electronic pacemakers obsolete.
In an attempt to regulate the heart's electrical activity, the optogenetic technology allowed researchers to selectively activate light-sensitive proteins.
The study is the first to translate the innovation, Optogenetics, into a tool that can pace and resynchronize the heartbeat.
In the experiment, in rats, scientists first directed a beam of blue light towards an area in the heart where the light-sensitive genes were delivered. This resulted in the effective pacing of the heart.
Subsequently, in a more advanced experiment, various locations in the rat hearts expressing light-sensitive proteins were activated by light, resulting in an improvement in the heart's performance.
Lior Gepstein, the study's author, stresses that this is a preliminary study and in order to translate the aforementioned approach to the clinical arena, we must overcome some significant hurdles.
"We must improve the penetration of light through the tissues, ensure continuous expression of the protein in the heart for many years, and develop a unique pacing device that will provide the necessary illumination. But despite all of this, the results of the study demonstrate the unique potential of optogenetics for both cardiac pacing (as an alternative to electronic pacemakers) and resynchronization (for the treatment of heart failure with ventricular dys-synchrony) therapies," Gepstein said.