Injections of heart muscle created from patients' own skin cells could save them from needing surgery to implant artificial pacemakers, research suggests. Scientists have succeeded in growing fully functional heart muscles by reprogramming stem and skin cells from patients.
In fact, they found that these reprogrammed cells could "reset" the rhythm of any unhealthy heart tissue placed around them. Researchers believe that heart patients could in future be treated with an injection of the new cells to create a "biological pacemaker", reducing the risk of rejection by the body. Such patients currently have to undergo surgery in which a battery-powered pacemaker is fitted. Around 25,000 operations are carried out each year in Britain.
Dr Oren Caspi, from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, said the heart cells they had created appeared to behave like the young, healthy heart tissue found in newborn babies. "We discovered that the electrical signal from the heart cells we created synchronised the beat of any surrounding heart tissue," he said. "When we integrated the cells into the hearts of pigs, they were paced by the injected cells."
Researchers hope to carry out tests on human patients soon. Meanwhile, further treatments are being carried out on monkeys to determine how long the pacemaker effect might last.