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Dr. Campbell: New gene therapy may replace pacemaker implants

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A new technology that allows genes to be injected into hearts with damaged electrical systems may replace the need for pacemaker implants in humans in the future. A new technology that allows genes to be injected into hearts with damaged electrical systems may replace the need for pacemaker implants in humans in the future.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

A new technology that allows genes to be injected into hearts with damaged electrical systems may replace the need for pacemaker implants in humans in the future.

In the United States alone, there are more than 500,000 patients that get pacemaker implants annually. When the batteries on the Pacemakers run out in seven to 10 years, another surgery is required to implant a new device.

A pacemaker is a device that is implanted into the body and involves a pulse generator (battery) and leads (wires implanted into the heart). The pacemaker takes over your heart beat whenever your own heart is unable to send an electrical impulse to make the heartbeat. The surgery involves making an incision in the chest in order to place the battery/device and then implanting the leads under X-Ray guidance into the heart.

What are the risks associated with pacemaker surgery?

Whenever you have any type of surgery, there is always the risk of bleeding and infection. In pacemaker implants, there are risks associated with the procedure which are very low—but include a collapsed lung and a perforation in the heart itself. In addition, any time hardware is implanted into the body, there is the potential for things to go wrong –device malfunction, etc. The key to low risk implants is to identify an experienced, high volume surgeon.

New gene therapy

A new study has recently shown that a particular gene can be injected into the heart and correct abnormal heart beats in pigs. The researchers injected a single human gene into the hearts of pigs with severely weakened heartbeats. By the second day, the pigs had significantly faster heartbeats than other diseased pigs that didn't receive the gene.

One virtue of gene therapy is that it is minimally invasive, unlike pacemakers, which are implanted by surgery. The gene method also may offer a permanent fix.

Pig hearts are similar to human ones in structure and size. But extensive further testing is needed before the technique could be tested on people

The study was published in the Journal Science Translational Medicine. It was funded by the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

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