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Stanford researchers create light-responsive heart cells

A multidisciplinary research team from Stanford have engineered human heart cells that can be paced with light using a technology called optogenetics.

In a paper (subscription required) published on Wednesday in the Biophysical Journal, lead author and Stanford doctoral candidate in bioengineering Oscar Abilez, MD, and colleagues describe how they used optogenetics to create human heart cells that pulse when illuminated by a specific blue light. A Stanford release offers more details:

In the near term, say the researchers, the advance will provide new insight into heart function. In the long term, however, the development could lead to an era of novel, light-based pacemakers and genetically matched tissue patches that replace muscle damaged by a heart attack.

To create the light-responsive heart cells, the researchers first inserted DNA encoding a light-sensitive protein called channelrhodopsin-2, or ChR2, into human embryonic stem cells. ChR2 controls the flow of electrically charged ions into the cell. For heart cells, the primary ion is sodium, which initiates an electrochemical cascade that causes the cell to contract. They then transformed the optogenetically engineered stem cells into cardiomyocytes unlike any others — those that respond to light.

The video above shows how the blue light triggers the heart cell to contract.

Previously: Using optogenetics to build a biological pacemaker, Nature Methods names optogenetics its “Method of the Year”, Using light to get muscles moving and Karl Deisseroth outlines optogenetics in Scientific American

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