Pacemakers Could Be Replaced By Light Beams As Tests Show They Stop Irregular Heart Rhythms

'These are very important results.'

13/09/2016 10:51

A new painless treatment could replace pacemakers in patients at risk of arrhythmia, administering light beams instead of electric pulses.

Lab tests have shown that administering gentle beams of light can tame otherwise lethal heart disorders in mice hearts, and a computer simulation of a human heart. 

Patients who suffer from irregular heart rhythms are currently treated with pacemakers, which administer harsh electric shocks that are painful and can further damage heart tissues.

Science Photo Library - IAN HOOTON. via Getty Images

But these new tests could pave the way for a new type of implantable defibrillator that is safer and gentler.

The team, who published the study in the journal of Clinical Investigation, conducted tests on beating mouse hearts whose cells had been genetically engineered to express proteins that react to light. 

A light pulse of one second applied to the heart was enough to restore normal rhythm in a rodent heart. They also performed an experiment on a computer model of a human heart.

The team were confident that the heart would react in the same way, but they did have to use red light instead of blue light on the larger human organ as the blue light has a shorter wavelength so isn’t powerful enough.

Tobias Bruegmann, one of the lead authors said: “It shows for the first time experimentally that light can be used for defibrillation of cardiac arrhythmia.”

The NHS estimates that 2 million people in the UK suffer with Arrhythmias or heart rhythm problems. This kills 100,000 people in the UK every year. Some of these deaths could be avoided if the arrhythmias were diagnosed earlier.

Common triggers for an arrhythmia are viral illnesses, alcohol, tobacco, changes in posture, exercise, drinks containing caffeine, and certain over-the-counter, prescribed and illegal recreational drugs.

The new method is still in the basic stages of testing and trials but provides “important results” in the future of treating heart problems.

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