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Light-Based Pacemaker

November 16, 2011

Scientists have designed a pacemaker that restarts the heart with light instead of electricity.



A light-based pacemaker…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

About half a million people die each year in the U.S. because of cardiac rhythm problems. That’s why many people wear pacemakers that reset the heart electrically. But these require invasive surgery, aren’t very precise, and can’t be used around strong magnets. Now, Stanford bioengineers Oscar Abilez and Ellen Kuhl say they’re designing a better pacemaker – one that uses light instead of electricity to make heart muscle cells contract. Abilez explains.


We introduce a light-sensitive protein into the cells and then when we stimulate these proteins with a specific wavelength of blue light, this light leads to a cascade of events eventually causing the individual cells to contract, and at a bigger level the whole heart to contract.


The researchers think light-based pacemakers of the future could consist of tissue patches made from a patient’s own stem cells, so they wouldn’t be rejected. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.