Researchers have found a way to re-program heart cells so that they become exact replicas of highly specialized pacemaker cells, as the Medical Press
has reported. It's done by injecting a single gene, called Tbx18, into the cells. The new cells took on the distinctive features and function of native pacemaker cells.
The discovery has the potential to replace, as a biological alternative, the conventional pacemaker.
Having a pacemaker fitted is one of the most common types of heart surgery, according to Medical News
. Current pacemaker cells generate electrical activity that spreads to other heart cells in an orderly pattern to create rhythmic muscle contractions, but there is only a limited quantity of them within the heart, meaning they need to be replaced with electronic devices if damaged.
Using this new technique, the research brief
describes, it has been shown that replacement cells, that replicate the distinctive features and functions of native pacemaker cells, can be created. So far, studies have only been undertaken in test tubes and in guinea pig studies.
The scientists are based at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute
led by Dr Eduardo Marban. The findings have been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology