Pacemakers are a common enough treatment for those who have irregular heartbeats, helping them to stabilize their heartbeats using precise electric jolts. But pacemakers remain unnatural, as at the end of the day, they remain tiny devices implanted into the chest of a patient, with any number of problems possibly arising.
But now a new research seems to have developed a more natural solution, keeping in mind the principal of a pacemaker, but using the heart's own cells to do the job.
Researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute have been able to recreate pacemaker cells in the wall of the heart so that the heart itself regulates its own beat, restoring a function to it that is quite ordinary in a healthy heart. Publishing their work in the journal, Nature Biotechnology, researchers were able to restore this heart function by using a virus, introducing genes into ordinary heart cells to remake them into pacemaker cells.
The pacemaker cells, much like those of the machine, use electric jolts to regulate the beat of the heart, but in unhealthy hearts, this function tends to falter, calling for the use of an artificial pacemaker. But the present research showed that by introducing the gene, Tbx18, which is commonly found in pacemaker cells, to heart muscle cells, the cells are remade into pacemaker cells themselves. The cells undergo change, assuming the "distinctive features of pacemaker cells," and in testing on guinea pigs, five of the seven test subjects, after treatment, were seen to have restored heartbeat.
Speaking about the research, Dr. Hee Cheol Cho said, "Electronic devices are limited to their finite battery life, requiring battery changes. Complications such as displacement, breakage, entanglement of the leads are not uncommon and could be catastrophic, the incidence of devices with bacterial infection keeps going up and, for pediatric patients, the device does not 'grow' with the patients. All these problems could be solved by a biological pacemaker."
Dr. Cho added that while the new treatment had proven successful in guinea pigs, it would have to be tested on other animals to see consistency, after which human testing would start.
Commenting, British Heart Foundation's associate medical director, Prof. Jeremy Pearso, said, "The ability to turn ordinary heart cells into specialized pacemaker cells in this way is highly novel and scientifically fascinating. It opens up the tantalizing possibility of using cell therapy to restore normal heart rhythm in people who would otherwise need electronic pacemakers. However, much more research now needs to be done to understand if these findings can help people with heart disease in the future."