Scientists are now able to control the heart of a fly using lasers. There is hope in the scientific community that this technology might eventually be able to be applied to humans.
The experiment was conducted by bioengineer at the Lehigh University Professor Chao Zhou and a team of colleagues. They started by breeding a strain of fruit flies that were genetically altered by being implanted with a light-sensitive protein which was obtained from algae.
The lasers shined at the hearts of the flies through their exoskeletons. The light from the lasers activated the cells containing the protein, allowing scientists to regulate their heart beats.
Scientists believe that this new method of heart manipulation could have some major advantages over traditional pacemakers, which are invasive and have negative effects that extend beyond the heart.
This new method is non-invasive and only cells in the heart are affected.
Similar methods have been utilized in the past, as scientists have implanted similar genes in zebrafish and mice. However this most recent experiment does have some scientific breakthroughs.
When the experiment was conducted on the zebrafish it only worked when the fish were still developing, as only then could the light from the lasers reach their heart tissues.
In the experiment involving mice, scientists had to open the chest wall of the mice through surgery.
Zhou and his team were able to stimulate the hearts of the flies at all stages of their lifecycle, without the need for invasive surgery. They even successfully used the laser system to prevent flies that were genetically designed to have heart attacks from having heart problems.
The fruit fly has genetic material that is about 80% the same as humans, meaning that this technology might someday be used in humans as well.
However, there are still challenges that remain. A major issue will be how to provide light to human hearts without first surgically implanting a light source. A stronger laser would most likely be required. Even then, scientists would need to find a way to focus the light so that it is only directed at the heart.
Despite the challenges, scientists remain hopeful that this could one day be an extremely useful heart-assistance tool for humans.