‘Biological pacemakers’ being tested

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Pioneering experiments done in pigs have brought grow-you-own pacemakers a vital step closer to reality. Scientists have changed heart cells into pacemaker cells by injecting genes.

The scientists based at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles said that the biological pacemaker is able to cure a disease.

The British Heart Foundation has stated that the application of this research is still a long way off.

The scientists injected a pig’s heart with a gene containing a heart condition which causes the heartbeat to slow. The therapy converted some of the ordinary heart muscle cells into specialised cells which maintained the required heart rate. The group of cells which are the size of a peppercorn acted as a pacemaker for a period of two weeks and employed the function of a conventional pacemaker.

The leader of the research team, Dr Eduardo Marban, said that for the first a biological pacemaker has been created by using minimally invasive methods and showing that the biological pacemaker can support the demands of normal, daily life. He said the team was also the pioneers in reprogramming a heart cell in a living animal to effectively cure disease.

Heart Rate and Rhythm

Traditional pacemakers are electronic devices which are implanted into an individual’s chest to control a heartbeat that is abnormal. The device sends regular electrical impulses to keep the heart beat regular.

Scientists are looking at the creation of biological pacemakers which may one day replace conventional pacemakers, either temporarily or permanently.

Co-researcher, Dr Eugenio Cingolani, said that babies in the womb are not able to have a pacemaker, but the scientists are hoping to collaborate with foetal medicine specialists to try and create a catheter-based, lifesaving treatment for those infants who have been diagnosed with congenital heart block.

He stated that the possibility is there that one day they may be able to save lives by the replacement of hardware with one injection of genes.

However, the British Heart Foundation has stated that this is still a long way off.

Senior cardiac nurse, Amy Thompson, said that pacemakers have been around since the 1960s, with constantly improving technology. She said that researchers were looking toward eliminating an implantable device for some patients.

She added that the study is interesting, but it was very small and was only tested for two weeks.

Pacemakers are still being used and continue to be a vital treatment method for abnormal heart rhythms. It saves lives and keeps hearts beating.

Image Credit: Michelle Tribe

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