Scientists from Case Western Reserve and Vanderbilt universities are reporting a surprising finding that lasers can be used to pace the contractions of embryonic quail hearts. It has been reported previously that light can excite cardiac tissue, but this is the first time that a heart rate was set to a particular frequency using light.
According to the scientists, this non-invasive device may prove an effective tool in understanding how environmental factors that alter an embryo’s heart rate lead to congenital defects. It may also lead to investigations of cardiac electrophysiology at the cellular, tissue and organ levels, and possibly the development of a new generation of pacemakers.
“The mechanisms behind many congenital defects are not well known. But, there is a suspicion that when the early embryonic heart beats slower or faster than normal, that changes gene regulation and changes development,” said Michael Jenkins, a postdoctoral researcher in biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve.
Jenkins came up with the idea to try the infrared laser on an embryonic heart. He stumbled on an obscure paper from the 1960s in which researchers found that continuous exposure to visible light accelerated the heart rate of an embryonic chicken. He also knew of the success that Eric D. “Duco” Jansen, a professor of biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University, had using an infrared laser to stimulate nerves. He then hypothesized that pulsed infrared light may enable pacing of the embryonic heart.