Pacemakers

The normal healthy human heart has a regular beat. The beat is set by the heart’s natural pacemaker, which sends regular electrical impulses throughout the heart muscle to co-ordinate a contraction - the heartbeat

In some heart conditions these electrical impulses are delayed or blocked. This is usually caused by heart disease or ageing of the heart. People with irregular heartbeats may need an artificial cardiac pacemaker to help maintain their heartbeat.

Research we supported has contributed to advances that have given thousands of UK patients a pacemaker. Pacemakers are now fitted in a routine procedure under local anaesthetic.

The first pacemakers

Early pacemakers were bulky and cumbersome, requiring a traumatic operation to open the chest in order to sew electrodes directly onto the surface of the heart.

Revolutionising pacemakers

In the 1960s, we supported a pioneering group of researchers at the forefront of heart pacing research at St George’s Hospital in London.

The research team led by Dr Aubrey Leatham and chief technician Geoff Davies revolutionised pacemaker technology. Their work, and the work of scientists around the world, has paved the way for the miniature, sophisticated pacemaker devices that we use today.

What’s next?

Pacemaker technology continues to evolve. Cardiologists are undertaking more BHF-funded studies to improve and refine heart pacing for people with permanent pacemakers.

We also fund a range of research projects which seek to understand the causes and effects of abnormal heart rhythms. This will help some future heart patients avoid the need for a pacemaker, and ensure that artificial pacing is optimised for others.

Our Professors John Camm, David Eisner and Alan Williams are at the forefront of heart rhythm research.

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