Study controls pace of quail embroyo's heart using light

Researchers have controlled the pace of an embryonic quail heart using pulses of light--a development that could eventually lead to new types of optical pacemakers, MIT Technology Review is reporting.

Artificial pacemakers use electrodes to deliver electrical impulses to the heart muscle to keep its beats consistent. While the devices are safe in the short term, they can cause damage to the muscle if used over decades, the Review reports. The technique's intrusive methods--which require contact with the heart --also limit its capabilities as a research tool.

But researchers now are looking to light pulses to drive an optical pacemaker--a device that would be less invasive than implanted pacemakers. A team led by Michael Jenkins at Case Western Reserve University placed a laser fiber a millimeter away from a two-day-old quail embryo's heart, Popular Science notes. Using laser pulses, they paced the heart's contractions, with no apparent damage to the developing tissue. The report is published online at Nature Photonics.

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