Scientists have concluded that beams of red light could be used to restore a normal heartbeat during a heart attack, replacing the need for painful electric shocks.
Researchers at John Hopkins University in the United States have been conducting tests in the hopes of creating an optical defibrillator, which would restore the normal functioning of the heart using beams of red light.
Defibrillators use electronic pulses to return heart function to a normal rate, but the treatment can, in the process, damage heart tissue.
The science behind the optical defibrillator is based around optogenetics, which are light sensitive proteins that are attached to living tissues. When light collides with the proteins the modification of electrical activity inside cells can take place.
Scientists from the University of Bonn in Germany have tested the technology on the hearts of mice, whose cells had been genetically engineered to produce proteins that could be trigged by blue light. A regular heartbeat was swiftly restored when one second pulses of light were administered.
The scientists at John Hopkins developed a simulation of the human heart and discovered that the blue light used in Germany was not as effective on a human heart as red light, with a longer wavelength.
The development of optical defibrillators is still in the very early stages and it could be a decade before the technology is used on patients. Nevertheless, it is a new innovation that is sorely needed. Last year 735,000 Americans suffered a heart attack and 610,000 Americans died from heart disease, figures that are expected to get worse as the obesity crisis tightens its grip on the United States.