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Scientists from Los Angeles, California, have been experimenting with a gene, known as Tbx18, which transforms certain cells of the heart into heartbeat regulators and may be able to replace the need for an electronic pacemaker one day.
According to LiveScience, the sinoatrial node area of the heart regulates the heartbeat. When people have problems with how their heart functions, they need a pacemaker to ensure that the heart keeps beating properly. The scientists who performed the experiment placed the gene Tbx18 into a part of the heart in several pigs who suffered from slow heart beats due to complete heart block. The gene then transformed part of the heart muscle into sinoatrial nodes. As a result, the new sinoatrial nodes successfully regulated the heartbeat without an electronic pacemaker and increased the speed of their heartbeats. The pigs’ hearts were also able to function properly during exercise and rest throughout the two-week experimentation period.
The natural pacemaker is currently being made to be a temporary option for those who have gotten infections from their electronic pacemakers and need to keep their heartbeat regular while they await a replacement pacemaker. However, scientists are looking to make this a permanent option.
Eduardo Maraban, a cardiologist from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, believes that the gene is just what we need for patients who suffer from infections and patients who are unable to receive a pacemaker. He pointed out that two percent of the population will get an infection from the use of an electronic pacemaker and that this gene could be just what they need, instead of just a temporary fix. Maraban also stressed the need for the gene when it comes to unborn fetuses suffering from congenital heart block; the gene may save lives since doctors can’t operate on the heart of unborn infants, according to The Verge.
Scientists are expecting to be able to test the gene on humans within the next few years.