Vatta said the study is promising because the gene-therapy approach allows the heart to beat at more normal rates than electronic pacemakers do.
Also, he said, it shows that targeting the heart's electronic system, instead of the heart muscle, is possible. This may help show researchers where to target the gene-therapy treatment in the future, he said.
But there are challenges, Vatta added. For one, a gene-based pacemaker would have to perform better than existing electronic pacemakers, which have "a long track record and a well-established safety and durability profile," he said. Also, electronic pacemakers can control the upper and lower chambers of the heart; gene-based pacemakers cannot do that, he said.
"It is also unclear how the sophisticated programmability that modern electronic pacemakers currently have will be achieved by biological pacemakers," Vatta said.
For now, Pogwizd said, more research is needed to examine issues like effectiveness, safety and durability. Still, the gene approach offers the prospect of a treatment that could replace electronic pacemakers or be used as part of a hybrid treatment with them, he said.
For more about pacemakers, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Matteo Vatta, Ph.D., director, cardiovascular genetics section, Molecular Genetics Diagnostic Laboratory, and associate professor, clinical medical & molecular genetics, Indiana University, Indianapolis; Steven Pogwizd, M.D., professor, cardiac arrhythmia research, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Feb. 6, 2013, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, online
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