Optical pacemaker regulates heartbeats with laser beam

May 28th, 2008 - 3:49 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 28 (IANS) The world’s first optical pacemaker, tried out in a lab, can help control and regulate erratic heartbeats, with short yet powerful laser beams. “If you put a large amount of laser power through these cells over a very short time period, you get a huge response,” says Nicholas Smith, who led the team that tested the pacemaker.

The laser pulses activate release of calcium ions within the cells, which forces the cells to contract. A potential application of this technology is in studying uncoordinated contractions in heart muscle, said Smith.

Normally, heart muscle contracts in a highly coordinated fashion, and this is what allows the heart to pump blood through the vasculature.

But in some, when the coordinated beating breaks down, the heart twitches irregularly - a condition known as fibrillation. This would allow scientists to study irregular heartbeats on a cellular level and screen anti-fibrillation drugs.

The new laser technique, designed by University of Osaka scientists in Japan may allow researchers to create a form of fibrillation in the test tube.

However, exposing heart muscle cells to powerful laser pulses can have its drawbacks. Although the laser pulses last for less than a trillionth of a second, damaging effects can build up over time and this currently limits the possibility of clinical applications.

The optical pacemaker has been described in the latest issue of the journal Optics Express.

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