Scientists developing natural pacemaker


Heart

Experimenting on pigs, scientists have injected the animals’ hearts with a gene, which goes on to develop some of heart’s muscles into a natural pacemaker.

The trials are being attempted with an eye on the development of biological pacemaker, hoped to eventually supplant electrical pacemakers.

The natural entity in the body, which regulates the heart’s rhythm, is composed of a small cluster of cells that generates electrical activity.

“Rather than replacing that (malfunctioning heart) with an electronic device,” said researcher Dr Eugenio Cingolani at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, “we are converting your own regular myocytes into pacemaker cells to give you a stable rate and rhythm.”

Gene therapy has long been viewed as a promising but risky field, particularly after early attempts to use it in people in the 1990s showed it could be dangerous and even fatal.

“This development heralds a new era of gene therapy, where genes are used not only to correct a deficiency disorder, but actually to convert one type of cell into another to treat disease,” said Eduardo Marban, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

David Friedman, chief of heart failure services at North Shore-LIJ’s Franklin Hospital in New York, who was not involved in the study, said future work in animals should reveal more safety and efficacy data, “such as lack of inflammation or systemic infection from the gene delivery process.”

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