Alternative Pacemaker Therapy: First Functional Pacemaker Cells Developed From Human Stem Cells


The very first functional pacemaker cells created out of human stem cells have been developed by scientists from the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, at Toronto, Canada.

The Biological Pacemaker

To date, electronic pacemakers are used to regulate heartbeat disorders of a human heart. The sinoatrial node (SAN) pacemaker cells are known to be the chief heartbeat controllers. A fault in its working can lead to irregular heartbeats and the treatment requires implantation of electronic pacemaker machines.

The scientists at McEwen Centre generated sinoatrial node (SAN) cardiomyocytes, the biological pacemaker from human pluripotent cells, and published the findings in Nature Biotechnology. The human pluripotent stem cells are known to be capable of generating into about 200 different cell types that include every tissue and organ of a human body.

Process Of Generating Biological Pacemaker From Human Stem Cells

The effort made by scientists explains how human pluripotent stem cells can be developed into pacemaker cells in 21 days. These biological pacemaker cells can be used to replace the deteriorating SAN through cell transplantation.

The scientists formulated and tested the developmental pathway of creating pacemaker cells from stem cells by using different signaling molecules at different times, through the course of three weeks, till the goal was achieved.

The findings demonstrate a transgene-independent process for creating the SAN-like pacemaker cells (SANLPCs) from human pluripotent stem cells by stage-specific manoeuvring of developmental signaling pathways. These biological pacemaker cells were successfully tested on rats.

"We are replicating nature's way of making the pacemaker cell," said the study's senior author, Dr. Gordon Keller, Director of the McEwen Centre.

Electronic Pacemaker To Be Replaced With Its Biological Counterpart In Future

The research stated that, in the near future, this biological pacemaker can be the new alternate pacemaker replacing the electronic one. The testing and clinical trials of these biological pacemakers on humans seem to be about a decade away. The next move is to instigate pre-clinical trials on these pacemaker cells to ensure reliability and safety.

Moreover, scientists can also make use of the new method to create pacemaker cells for people affected with pacemaker dysfunction. The cells of such individual patients can be examined in a petri dish and new drugs can be devised for them, to help them improve their heart function.

"We understand the importance of precision in developmental biology in setting out the process by which organisms grow and develop. We use that same precision in the petri dish because we are replicating these same processes" added Dr. Keller.

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