Researchers aim to use light to restore healthy heartbeats

When a beating heart slips into an irregular, life-threatening rhythm, the treatment is well known: deliver a burst of electric current from a pacemaker or defibrillator. But because the electricity itself can cause pain, tissue damage and other serious side-effects, a Johns Hopkins-led research team wants to replace these jolts with a kinder, gentler remedy: light.

Five biomedical engineers from Johns Hopkins and Stony Brook universities described their plan to use biological lab data and an intricate computer model to devise a better way to heal ailing hearts. Other scientists are already using light-sensitive cells to control certain activities in the brain. The Johns Hopkins-Stony Brook researchers say they plan to give this technique a cardiac twist so that doctors in the near future will be able to use low-energy light to solve serious heart problems such as arrhythmia.

‘Applying electricity to the heart has its drawbacks,’ said the project