Functional pacemaker cells created from stem cell research

Scientific Developments/Breakthroughs

The first functional pacemaker cells to be created from human stem cells have been developed by researchers.

A team from the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, part of the University Health Network, have shown how human pluripotent stem cells can be coaxed in 21 days to develop into pacemaker cells capable of regulating heartbeats with electrical impulses.

“The first functional pacemaker cells created from human stem cells have been developed, opening the door for new treatments for heart disease.“

The functionality of these lab-grown cells has been demonstrated by implanting them into the hearts of rats, although human clinical trials to test such biological pacemakers are still between five and ten years away.

Currently, many people with heart problems are reliant on electronic pacemakers that, while beneficial, have a number of limitations - not least of which is their finite lifespan, meaning they need to be regularly replaced.

By contrast, a biological pacemaker grown from stem cells would offer a potentially permanent cure.

Senior author Dr Gordon Keller, director of the McEwen Centre, said: "What we are doing is human biology in a petri dish. We are replicating nature's way of making the pacemaker cell."

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