BBiological pacemakers derived from stem cells could the cardiac revolution that makes electronic devices surgically inserted into the body a thing of the past.
When the heart needs support keeping rhythm, the life-saving solution today is the surgical implantation of an electrical pacemaker. While conventional pacemakers have saved many lives, they have always carried surgical risks and come with no hormonal sensitivity and a predetermined battery life. With children’s hearts that are still growing, the pacemaker implant becomes still more limited in its ability to support, as the heart rapidly outgrows it. What could be more natural than to turn to the wisdom of the body itself, and its own biological mechanism for maintaining the heart rhythm?”
The sinotrial (SA) node is the natural pacemaker of the heart, and is comprised of a group of dedicated heart cells – SA node pacemaker cells – responsible for initiation of the electrical signal leading to the heart’s rhythmic contraction.
The team from the Technion, Rambam Health Care Campus, and the University Health Network’s McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Toronto, employed developmental biology to develop a differentiation protocol for the creation of pacemaker cells from human embryonic stem cells.
“The pacemaker generated from embryonic stem cells exhibits the molecular, electrical and functional properties characteristic of human pacemaker cells and is able to pace the heart in animal models of abnormally slow heart rate,” said Prof. Gepstein. “It is an effective and promising alternative to natural pacemaker cells in the event of their dysfunction. This development is significant both in terms of research – because it will enable scientists to study the heart in new ways, and in practical terms – since we are presenting an ‘assembly line’ here for an unlimited reservoir of pacemaker cells to treat patients with heart rhythm problems.
Together with our Canadian partners, we present a method for producing a population of pure pacemaker cells, and provide proof that they work well as a substitute for natural pacemaker cells that have been damaged.”
Prof. Lior Gepstein holds the Sohnis Chair in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.