Biological pacemaker breakthrough

17 December 2012

Scientists have made a new type of pacemaker inside the heart by adapting beating muscle into cells that are capable of controlling the organ's rhythm.

The team of researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute experimented on guinea pigs by injecting them with a genetically modified virus that converted part of their heart into a real pacemaker.

What this results in is an infection of heart cells, but not in a bad way. The virus begins to transform the cells, making them smaller, thinner and tapered to "the distinctive features of pacemaker cells", the BBC reported.

"Electronic devices are limited to their finite battery life, requiring battery changes," said Dr Hee Cheol Cho, one of the researchers who worked on the study.

"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 paediatric patients, the device does not 'grow' with the patients."

He added that all of these problems could be solved by a biological pacemaker.

A pacemaker is one of the most common types of heart surgery in the UK, and in 2010, 40,000 people had one fitted in England, the NHS stated.

Posted by Edward Bartel

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