Optogenetics is a very recent and powerful tool for researchers and biomedical engineers working in the field of neuro-stimulation. By applying pulses of light via an external or implanted light source to photo-sensitive tissue, electrical impulses can be induced in a very select region of tissue.
A major advantage of optogenetics is its increased selectivity relative to existing electrode-based approaches. While early applications for the technique include treatment of neurological disorders such as epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder, optogenetic stimulation of lab grown muscle tissue has also been demonstrated.
This week a multidisciplinary team or researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Stony Brook University, New York have developed a computational framework to assist in achieving optogenetic cardiac pacing in humans. The framework, which has been described in the journal Nature Communications, combines computational cardiac modelling and biological data in order to identify how to position and control the light-sensitive cells in order to maintain a healthy cardiac rhythm and contraction.
As the Stony Brook researchers evaluate and characterize techniques to make the cardiac tissue light-sensitive, the Johns Hopkins team can apply these results to their cardiac model in order to understand the interactions at the molecular, cellular, and whole organ levels. The researchers hope that these early hybrid experiments will eventually lead to a new generation of optogenetic devices for cardiac pacing and resynchronization therapies.