Heart cells grow into pacemaker
By injecting a gene into the heart muscle cells of pigs, researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles have been able to transform normal heart cells into cells that can initiate a heartbeat. Researchers previously were able to do this with rodents, but with the success in pig hearts, they feel confident the procedure could work in humans.
The researchers used pigs with a condition called complete heart block, in which the heart beats very slowly. The researchers injected a gene called TBX18 into a small area of the heart muscle. This gene converted this area of heart muscle cells into sinoatrial node cells. Within a few days, the pigs that received the TBX18 gene had faster heartbeats than pigs that did not receive the gene. In addition, the hearts of pigs with the biological pacemaker were able to speed up during exercise, and slow down during rest much better than the hearts of pigs without the biological pacemaker. The pigs with the TBX18 gene were also more physically active than the pigs without the gene, according to the study.
Researchers see this method being useful for certain patients, such as those who develop infections from electronic pacemakers and need to have the devices temporarily removed, or fetuses with life-threatening heart disorders who cannot have an electronic pacemaker implanted.