Sunday 3 October 2010
Scientists have successfully controlled a living creature's heart with a laser beam, taking a first step towards technology that could prevent serious heart defects. The procedure used pulses of light to pace the heart of a two-day old quail embryo.
The research team, headed by Michael Jenkins at Case Western Reserve University, stuck a small laser only a millimeter away from the embryo's heart, and believe the resulting light pulses created a temperature gradient that spurred muscle contractions. By showing that lasers can regulate an organism's heartbeat without damaging tissue, scientists could someday create human pacemakers that don't require invasive surgery or heart-weakening electrodes. As well, Jenkins points out that a regular heartbeat means a healthier heart down the line, meaning laser pacemakers could someday be an effective preventative tool. It'll take a while to work our way from quail embryos to humans, but this is a breakthrough nonetheless.