A revolutionary new light therapy is being harnessed to help understand tachycardia, irregular heart rhythms that kill around 300,000 people in the US alone every year.
The technology, optogenetics, has been used for around 15 years in brain research, and especially for understanding how Parkinson’s disease develops.
But researchers have discovered it could also be used to find out how tachycardias happen. They are abnormally rapid heart rhythms that prevent the heart from pumping enough blood around the body, often causing sudden cardiac death.
Researchers at the American Institute of Physics have been using optogenetics to stimulate and control cardiac waves with light, and they have found the technology gives them more flexibility and options than the standard electrical stimulations that are routinely used.
One unexpected insight that optogenetics has already made is that a process in the heart, called alternans, that trigger a tachycardia attack could also hold the key to stopping one as well.
(Source: Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science, 2020; 30: 121107)