Working with guinea pigs, Johns Hopkins scientists have created what is believed to be the first biologic pacemaker for the heart, paving the way for a genetically engineered alternative to implanted electronic pacemakers. The advance, reported in the Sept. 12 issue of Nature, uses gene therapy to convert a small fraction of guinea pigs heart muscle cells into specialized "pacing" cells.
"We now can envision a day when it will be possible to recreate an individuals pacemaker cells or develop hybrid pacemakers -- part electronic and part biologic," says Eduardo Marbán, M.D., Ph.D., Michel Mirowski professor at Hopkins Institute of Molecular Cardiology, adding that clinical applications are still a few years away.
"Most applications of gene therapy try to cure a disease caused by a single defective or missing gene, but we used the cells genes as a tool box to tweak its function," adds Marbán. "This is akin to turning a clunky old car into a hot rod -- if you have the parts and expertise, it can be done."
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