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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs