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BME researchers employ a biophysically-detailed heart model to test optogenentic approaches on cardiac behavior

August 29, 2013

Cardiac modeling is a key  component to testing optogenetics technology — providing an accurate platform  for assessing the feasibility of potential optical control strategies.

Light-sensitive opsin proteins are delivered to heart cells from an optrode, enabling the conversion of light energy into electrical stimulation that triggers a rhythmic heartbeat.

Biomedical engineers from Johns Hopkins and Stony Brook universities are collaborating to develop new cardiac treatment methodologies by testing optogenetic approaches for serious heart problems such as arrhythmia. Initial results published in Nature Communications article entitled “A comprehensive multiscale framework for simulating opto­ge­netics in the heart“ indicate that with optogentics, cells can be targeted with gentle light beams and used to reshape the behavior of the heart.

The team, led by JHU Department of Biomedical engineering Murray B. Sachs Professor Natalia Trayanova, and lead author and postdoctoral fellow, Patrick Boyle, has created an intricate computer-simulated model of the heart for use in conducting virtual cardiac optogenetics experiments. Initial tests using light-based stimulation of the cardiac tissue have yielded exciting results — which gives optimism that use of this treatment method could arrive within the next decade.

JHU Department of Biomedical Engineering Professor Natalia Trayanova and Postdoctoral Fellow Patrick Boyle [Photo by Brent Millare]

The elaborate virtual heart model was designed to replicate cardiac function, identify the key properties of light sensitivity, and measure the impact of actuation by light on tissue, as well as demonstrate optogenetics delivery methods.

“The most promising thing about having a digital framework that is so accurate and reliable is that we can anticipate which experiments are really worth doing to move this technology along more quickly,” remarked Patrick Boyle, lead author of the Nature Communications paper. “One of the great things about using light is that it can be directed at very specific areas. It also involves very little energy. In many cases, it’s less harmful and more efficient than electricity.”

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Johns Hopkins University Press Release