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Scientists want to use photosynthetic bacteria to treat heart attacks

Sam McNeil / AP

A Stanford professor and heart surgeon has completed a proof-of-concept study showcasing the potential for photosynthetic cyanobacteria to treat the complications of heart attacks, per Smithsonian Magazine.

The traditional treatment: During a heart attack, heart tissue rapidly stops receiving blood containing oxygen and nutrients, which can lead to severe heart failure and death. So doctors try to get blood to the heart as soon as possible in order to provide critical oxygen and sugars.

The novel solution: The Stanford team injected a lab-grown strain of cyanobacteria — tiny photosynthetic organisms that use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugars — into a rat's heart and turned on a light. They saw increased metabolism within 20 minutes and improved heart performance in under an hour.

The drawbacks: Right now, the process requires open-heart surgery for the injection of cyanobacteria and the application of light. Additionally, the costs of outfitting hospitals with the equipment necessary for such a time-sensitive procedure might prove difficult.