News / Health

Normal Heart Cells Transformed into 'Biological' Pacemaker

FILE - A doctor checks a screen showing a graphical representation of a human heart.FILE - A doctor checks a screen showing a graphical representation of a human heart.
x
FILE - A doctor checks a screen showing a graphical representation of a human heart.
FILE - A doctor checks a screen showing a graphical representation of a human heart.
Jessica Berman

U.S. scientists have created a “biological” pacemaker to keep the heart beating normally.  The experimental technique may someday give cardiologists a new tool for treating patients with heart rhythm disorders.  

Currently, surgeons implant electronic pacemakers to electrically stimulate the hearts of patients with heart block.  These types of heart rhythm disorders cause the heart to beat slowly, can cause light-headedness, fatigue, fainting and in the worst cases, sudden death.

But there can be problems with pacemakers.  Sometimes they malfunction.  Also, patients occasionally develop an infection requiring the removal of the pacemaker for six to eight weeks of antibiotic treatment. And, occasionally, fetuses have heart block, which can result in stillbirth.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, California, have developed a “biological” therapy that may someday replace pacemakers.  Scientists created a natural pacemaker in experiments with pigs with a malfunctioning sinoatrial node, which regulates heartbeat.

They engineered a harmless virus to carry a gene called TBX18, then put it into a part of the heart the size of a peppercorn.  

“The TBX18 gene converts ordinary heart cells, of which there are billions in the human heart, into specialized sinoatrial node cells which number only in the thousands," said lead researcher Edwardo Marban, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. "In essence, we create a new sinoatrial node in a part of the heart that ordinary spreads the impulse but does not originate it," said Marban.

TBX18 plays a brief role in development of the sinoatrial node in developing fetuses.

The TBX18 infusion regulated the pigs’ heartbeats like a functioning sinoatrial node.  The treatment lasted for two weeks, the length of the study.  

In the United States, an estimated 300,000 heart patients receive pacemakers every year.  About two percent of them develop infections.  Researchers are initially targeting these individuals to receive the gene therapy.  Investigators are planning human clinical trials. They eventually hope their work, which has been 20 years in the making, leads to a biological treatment for heart rhythm irregularities.

Nikhil Munshi, a cardiologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, says most of the time pacemakers work well and will probably continue to be the first-line treatment for heart block. But he says having an alternative to the electronic device would be nice.

“In theory, at least, I think a strategy in which we can sort of reengineer nature may prove beneficial long term over electronic pacemakers, although electronic pacemakers are exceptionally helpful in treating many of these patients," said Munshi.

Munshi wrote an accompanying Perspectives piece in the journal Science Translational Medicine, where cardiologists from Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute report their work creating a  "biological” pacemaker. 

You May Like

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid