Treating cardiac arrhythmia more gently: LZH develops a biohybrid cardiac pacemaker

In the joint research project BioPACE, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) develops a biohybrid cardiac pacemaker in cooperation with four partners. The goal of this new approach is to treat cardiac arrhythmia more gently by a targeted optical stimulation of the cardiac muscle and other muscle groups.

The research on biohybrid implants for the light-induced cardiac excitation, defibrillation and stimulation of skeletal muscles is the goal of this project. To implement this innovative therapeutic concept, the partners are bringing together the latest findings from the fields of photonics, optogenetics, nanotechnology and medicine.

More gentle and more efficient with a new technology

The new technology is based upon an innovative approach to stimulate a contraction of the cardiac muscle: While conventional cardiac pacemakers work with electrical impulses, the new method shall use optical impulses. Thus, it is not an electrical stimulation but light that causes the cardiac muscle to contract.

Another novelty is the material: A part of the pacemaker shall consist of biological material. With the pacemaker being made of the patients’ own cells, rejection reactions of the human body can be minimized. Integrated in a hydro gel, these cells are doped with upconverting nanoparticles (UCNP). These are required to cause a contraction in reaction to the optical stimulation. The impulse is imparted to the surrounding cells, and thus the cardiac muscle contracts.

Further fields of application are envisaged

With this altered approach not only an improved treatment of cardiac arrhythmia will be possible. At a later stage, a biohybrid defibrillator shall be developed, too. In that way, long-term consequences of the treatment – for example the scarring of the tis-sue – can be reduced or even completely avoided.

The project has an unusually short development time, because the partners can make use of already existing results for their subprojects. The challenge, however, is to combine these results and to prepare them for use in the pacemaker. The LZH re-searchers focus on the coupling and distribution of light in the cardiac muscle.

A broad consortium for interdisciplinary cooperation

The LZH is the coordinator of the joint research project „Biohy-brids for Photon-Activated Cardiac Excitation“ (BioPACE). The Hannover Medical School (MHH) provides the expertise for cell fabrication and implementation. The required fiber optical wave-guides come from the LifePhotonic GmbH, and the converting nanoparticles (such as UCNPs or quantum dots) from the Center for Applied Nanotechnology CAN GmbH. Applications on the cardiac muscle and the skeletal muscles are explored by the Universitätsklinikum Bonn. The project is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research via the VDI Technologiezentrum GmbH within the scope of the funding initiative “Photonik Plus – new basic technologies in optics” for a duration of three years.

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