Ultrasound—the technology used for sonograms and examining the heart—can increase the rate at which heart cells beat, researchers from Drexel University report. In their paper “Ultrasound-Induced Modulation of Cardiac Rhythm in Neonatal Rat Ventricular Cardiomyocytes,” published ahead-of-print in the Journal of Applied Physiology, they describe the ultrasound settings that can change the beat frequency of cardiac cells.
The heart beating irregularly or stopping altogether is a life-threatening condition that must be treated immediately to avoid serious organ damage or death. Current ways of restoring and maintaining heart rate are invasive, involving electrodes threaded through the veins or placed surgically. Ultrasound is an attractive alternative because it can be applied non-invasively and would avoid the complications associated with surgery. Previous studies have shown that ultrasound at a high enough intensity can cause premature contractions and may be able to synchronize beating heart cells, suggesting the feasibility of an ultrasound pacemaking device.