News / Health

Doctors Use Gene Therapy to Create New Heart Pacemaker

Jessica Berman
Patients suffering from arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, might one day be able to restore their heart's normal rhythm with the injection of a single gene.  The experimental gene stimulates the creation of a natural heart pacemaker, doing away with the need for an implanted electronic device to regulate the heartbeat.  The technique could be a major step forward in the quest for new, biological therapies to treat heart disease.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles created biological pacemaker cells by inserting a single gene, called Tbx18, into a virus and injecting the engineered virus into the hearts of guinea pigs bred to have arrhythmia.
 
The gene prompts the creation of an exact replica of a raisin-sized node in the heart’s upper right chamber which normally maintains regular heart rhythms. Tbx18 transformed heart muscle cells, called cardiomyocytes, into a colony of natural pacemaker cells.
 
Institute director, Eduardo Marban says this sino-atrial node, called S-A-N, is a tiny island of 10-thousand cells among the roughly 10-billion cells comprising the heart muscle.   He says the new S-A-N created by the inserted gene is virtually identical to the structure it replaces.

“If we were to give scientists who are specialized in this area the data to look at it and compare it to a genuine pacemaker cell -- which, as I said,  are exceedingly rare -- to the ones we created by putting a gene in an ordinary heart cell, they would be hard-pressed to tell the difference,” Marban said.

Marban estimates that five to six billion dollars is spent each year worldwide on electronic pacemakers for millions of patients.  But artificial pacemakers have potentially serious drawbacks. The implanted devices can cause life-threatening infections and every five to seven years, the batteries that operate them must be changed, requiring surgery.

Also, Marban notes, the externally programmed devices do not work properly for all patients, while others are too sick to use them.

In about two years, Marban says researchers plan to conduct human trials of their gene therapy with the sickest heart patients to prove the biological therapy is both safe and effective.

“Basically, what we are going to look for are patients who already have an electronic pacemaker, who develop a severe infection and need to have the electronic pacemaker taken away.  And during the time the patients are free of an electronic pacemaker, their hearts need to be sustained by some means, and we hope we would be able to create this biological pacemaker to keep the heart going between treatments,” Marban said.

It could still be several years, however, before the biological therapy becomes an option for all heart patients in need of pacemakers.

An article on the creation of a natural cardiac pacemaker is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid