Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Manipulating electrical spiralling in sheets of cells has potential for treating irregular heart beats

24 November 2018

Spiralling into Control

From spinning galaxies to swarming honey bees, nature loves a rotating spiral. But inside our bodies these patterns can cause as much damage as a spinning tornado. Waves of electricity spiralling through heart muscle can cause potentially fatal heartbeat irregularities. Throughout nature, spiral wave structure is dictated by the physical properties of the core around which they spin. So if you can manipulate that core, you should be able to control the spiral. Researchers tested that theory using slices of rat heart cells engineered to respond to light. Using beams of light to alter cells’ electrical properties, they established and then steered electrical spirals. The experiment worked both in simulations (left hand spiral) and real cells (right two), letting the researchers guide the spiral to safety. Scaling the concept up from a single layer of cells to a whole heart might one day lead to new treatments for irregular heartbeats.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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