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Can stem cell technology be harnessed to generate biological pacemakers?

Date:
November 20, 2015
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
Although today's pacemakers are lifesaving electronic devices, they are limited by their artificial nature. For example, the devices require regular maintenance, must be replaced periodically, and can only approximate the natural regulation of a heartbeat. A new article highlights the promise and limitations of new methods based on stem cell and reprogramming technologies to generate biological pacemakers that might one day replace electronic pacemakers.
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This graphic shows examples of individual pacemaker cells.
Credit: Courtesy of Vasanth Vedantham.

Although today's pacemakers are lifesaving electronic devices, they are limited by their artificial nature. For example, their parts can fail or they can become infected. In addition, the devices require regular maintenance, must be replaced periodically, and can only approximate the natural regulation of a heartbeat. A Review article published on November 20 in Trends in Molecular Medicine highlights the promise and limitations of new methods based on stem cell and reprogramming technologies to generate biological pacemakers that might one day replace electronic pacemakers.

"Theoretically, biological pacemakers, which are composed of electrically active cells that can functionally integrate with the heart, could provide natural heart rhythm regulation without the need for indwelling hardware," says author Vasanth Vedantham, of the University of California, San Francisco.

To create biological pacemakers, one approach is to coax stem cells to become specialized cardiac pacemaker cells that are normally found within the sinoatrial node of the heart. These are then transplanted into an ailing heart to restore pacemaking function. Another promising approach is to directly reprogram supporting cells, already present in the heart--for instance, fibroblasts (e.g., connective tissue)--and convert them into pacemaker cells to restore cardiac function.

Vedantham states that initial large animal studies on biological pacemakers have generated promising results but that much more work remains ahead before biological pacing can be actually considered a clinically viable therapy. For example, researchers need to better understand the mechanisms controlling the development and maintenance of pacemaker cells in the sinoatrial node, just as they must develop ways to compare experimental biological pacemaker tissue with bona fide sinoatrial node tissue. Also, scientists will need to improve the methods used to deliver cells to desired locations within the heart, as well as the recovery of specific individual cells for detailed characterization and functional analyses.

"Biological pacemakers must meet a very high standard of performance to supplant electronic pacemakers," Vedantham says. "Because even a few seconds without a heartbeat can lead to serious consequences, a biological pacemaker would need to exhibit very robust and reliable performance. It remains to be determined whether this will be technically feasible. Despite such challenges, the field is poised for rapid progress over the next few years," he adds.


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Journal Reference:

  1. Vasanth Vedantham. New Approaches to Biological Pacemakers: Links to Sinoatrial Node Development. Trends in Molecular Medicine, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.molmed.2015.10.002

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "Can stem cell technology be harnessed to generate biological pacemakers?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151120182815.htm>.
Cell Press. (2015, November 20). Can stem cell technology be harnessed to generate biological pacemakers?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 26, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151120182815.htm
Cell Press. "Can stem cell technology be harnessed to generate biological pacemakers?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151120182815.htm (accessed May 26, 2017).

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