Bioengineering Could Replace Pacemakers

TUESDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- A new bioengineering technique has allowed scientists to restore normal heart rhythms in pigs with irregular heartbeats , reducing the animals' dependence on artificial pacemakers.

The scientists delivered a bioengineered cell-surface protein to the cardiac muscle of pigs in order to regenerate an area of the heart -- the sinoatrial (SA) node -- that controls heart rhythm.

The goal of the research is to eventually be able to use bioengineering, instead of electronic pacemakers, to treat humans with heart rhythm problems.

"Our study offers positive and direct evidence in living models that bioengineered cells can replace the electronic pacemaker," research leader Ronald Li, an associate professor of cell biology and human anatomy at the University of California at Davis School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

The study was published in the online edition of Circulation, and was expected to be published in the Sept. 5 print issue.

More than 2.2 million Americans have irregular heartbeats, and more than 250,000 get artificial pacemakers implanted each year. Li and his colleagues believe bioengineering would provide these patients with a more permanent, reliable and less invasive alternative to implanted devices.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of California, Davis, news release, Aug. 22, 2006

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