Researchers use biological pacemaker cells to regulate heart rhythm

17 July 2014        

Doctor checking a patient

Genetically transforming heart muscle cells into pacemaker cells to regulate a person’s heartbeat could be an alternative treatment for heart block in the future according to a new study.

Complete heart block happens when the electrical impulse sent by the heart’s natural pacemaker is prevented from reaching the lower chambers of the heart, resulting in an extremely slow heart rhythm that can be life-threatening.

Scientists injected a gene called TBX18 into pigs living with the heart defect to genetically modify heart tissue and recreate the body’s natural pacemaker cells.

Findings from the research showed the gene helped temporarily raise the heart rate to a normal level over the course of two weeks.

Researchers claim this could one day become an alternative treatment in special cases where people need but cannot have an electronic pacemaker fitted, for example if they have had their pacemaker removed due to infection. 

Researchers are looking ahead to a day when perhaps an implantable device may not be needed for some patients

Amy Thompson, our Senior Cardiac Nurse, said: “Pacemakers have been around since the early 60’s, and whilst technology is constantly improving researchers are looking ahead to a day when perhaps an implantable device may not be needed for some patients.

“However, it is a long way off yet and the benefits of a pacemaker are usually outweighed by the risks. This study is an interesting contribution to this area of research, however it was quite small and only lasted two weeks.

“Pacemakers continue to be an important treatment for many abnormal heart rhythms, helping to keep hearts beating and save lives.”