Researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) and Delft University of Technology have found a way to reset a racing heart immediately and automatically by an implanted LED device. In the scientific journal Science Translational Medicine, they describe how their bioelectronic defibrillator works in the laboratory. It could be the first step towards a pain-free treatment for patients with atrial fibrillation.
The system developed by the research group detects fast arrhythmias in the atrium of a rat’s heart and sends a signal to an LED device placed near the heart. “The flash of light from this LED then causes the heart to generate an electric current itself to halt the arrhythmia. This is made possible by using gene therapy to introduce specific light-sensitive proteins into the heart. This restores the heart’s normal rhythm immediately and automatically,” says principal investigator Daniël Pijnappels of LUMC’s Department of Cardiology.
René Poelma, a researcher in TU Delft’s Microelectronics department, is second author of the article in Science Translational Medicine. Together with Professor Kouchi Zhang, he has developed the implantable LED lamp. “One of the things required to reset a racing heart muscle is high light intensity at the correct wavelength, but there is not much space in the body for this. This is why we developed a miniaturised LED lamp that, once it has been implanted, is able to spread light of sufficient intensity over a relatively wide area,” he explains. This research is a great example of how combined medical and technological knowledge, and collaboration, can lead to innovation.
Without electrical shock
Pijnappels: “The bioelectronic defibrillator can stop atrial fibrillation without an electrical shock. In this way, the heart can be reset in a fully automated manner and at any time. We anticipate that this treatment for atrial fibrillation could improve both the patient’s quality of life and their prognosis.” The researchers emphasise that considerable research is still needed before a treatment can be arrived at that is suitable for patients. According to the researchers, however, it has now been demonstrated that the possibility exists.