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Gizmorama - September 19, 2016

Good Morning,

It seems that light might be the fastest way to your heart. It looks like heart disorder treatments are leaving electricity behind for light beams. Well, beam me up healthy!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*Light beams may replace electricity for heart disorder treatment *

WASHINGTON - The standard method of defibrillation involves sending powerful electrical pulses to the heart to correct irregular beats or restart a stopped heart, but researchers think they have a better method that is less painful and less damaging to the heart muscle.

Using optogenetics, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Bonn say electrical defibrillators could be replaced with ones delivering beams of light as a method of regulating the heart, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Optogenetics -- which involves embedding light-sensitive proteins in living tissue -- allows light sources to modify electrical activity in cells. Recent studies with mice have shown nerves in the brain, spinal cord and limbs can be stimulated using light and that memories thought lost can be reactivated using light, suggesting optogenetics has potential for medical application.

Heart patients with arrhythmia often have defibrillators implanted in their hearts to detect and deliver electrical shocks to correct an improperly beating heart and prevent sudden death from heart failure.

For the new study, the researchers tested a light defibrillator system on beating mouse hearts genetically altered to express proteins that react to light. They found a light pulse of one second restored normal rhythm to the rodent's hearts.

To test the system in humans, the researchers used a computer model based on MRI scans of a patient who had a heart attack and was at increased risk for arrhythmia as a result.

Though they had to use red light to penetrate human heart tissue -- blue light is effective in mouse hearts, which are smaller -- the model suggests an arrhythmia in the human heart could be corrected.

The researchers note cardiac optogenetics is a new technology and much more research is needed, though modeling similar to that done in the new study will play a key role in its development.

"The new method is still in the stage of basic research," Philipp Sasse, a junior professor at the University of Bonn, said in a press release. "Until implantable optical defibrillators can be developed for the treatment of patients, it will still take at least five to 10 years."

*-- Chemists watch the insides of batteries in 3D --*

NEW YORK - Researchers at New York University have developed a new technique for imaging the insides of batteries in 3D. The high-resolution imaging allows scientists to watch the batteries charge and discharge in real time.

"One particular challenge we wanted to solve was to make the measurements 3D and sufficiently fast, so that they could be done during the battery-charging cycle," Alexej Jerschow, a professor of chemistry at NYU, said in a news release.

"This was made possible by using intrinsic amplification processes, which allow one to measure small features within the cell to diagnose common battery failure mechanisms," Jerschow explained. "We believe these methods could become important techniques for the development of better batteries."

The new-and-improved magnetic resonance imaging technique helped researchers peer inside rechargeable lithium-ion batteries -- the power source for a variety of electronics, including smartphones, laptops and electric cars.

Scientists have high hopes for lithium-ion batteries, but their potential is currently being held back by dendrites -- deformities which form in lithium metal over time. Dendrites hinder the efficiency of lithium-ion batteries and can even cause the batteries to catch on fire.

Scientists developed the latest imaging method in order to monitor the development of dendrites inside lithium-ion cells, and to understand what kinds of conditions trigger their growth.

When researchers focused their imaging on the batteries' electrolyte solution, which carries charged ions between the two electrodes, distortions appeared in the vicinity of growing dendrites.

"The method examines the space and materials around dendrites, rather than the dendrites themselves," said Andrew Ilott, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU. "As a result, the method is more universal."

Ilott is the lead author of a new paper detailing the novel MRI technique. The paper was published this week in the journal PNAS.

"We can examine structures formed by other metals, such as, for example, sodium or magnesium--materials that are currently considered as alternatives to lithium," Ilott added. "The 3D images give us particular insights into the morphology and extent of the dendrites that can grow under different battery operating conditions."


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