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Summer
2011

Discovery

Pacing Embryonic Heart with Laser

Pacing Embryonic Heart with Laser

Speeding up the heart might not require any extra time on the treadmill. According to researchers at Case Western Reserve University, an infrared laser could do the trick.

Using pulsed light, an interdisciplinary team of researchers including Michiko Watanabe, PhD, professor of pediatrics, genetics and anatomy at the medical school; and biomedical engineering professors Andrew Rollins, PhD, and Michael Jenkins, PhD, paced contractions in an avian embryonic heart, with no apparent damage to the tissue. This non-invasive device could help researchers learn more about the relationship between the heart rate in the developing heart and heart problems later in life.

"If we can precisely control pacing, we could figure out how structure, function and gene expression all work together," says Watanabe. The investigators believe the pulse of light creates a temperature gradient in the heart tissue that opens ion channels in heart cells. This effect spurs along an electrical impulse that makes the heart contract.

Watanabe, who specializes in heart development, says the findings could lead to the development of a pacemaker for a child's or baby's heart, or even a device that could be used in utero.