Working with pigs, a common model for human cardiovascular research, researchers first destroyed the natural pacemaker cells in each subject's heart and installed an electronic pacemaker. They then inserted a gene for transcription factor TBX18 into cardiac muscle tissue using an adenovirus. Using adenovirous vectors for inserting genes is a common strategy in gene therapy.
Within a couple of days, ordinary myocardial fibers had developed the structure and function of pacemaker cells. In about 5 days, the electronic pacemakers were no longer needed.
However, this biological pacemaking peaked at about 8 days, then eventually disappeared. This may occur because the virus-infected cells are probably destroyed by the body's immune defenses. So researchers are thinking that perhaps, at the very least, this could eventually lead to a temporary treatment for certain arrythmias in humans.
What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?
- This is an interesting bit of news that helps illustrate the frontiers of human biomedical sciences.
- This story provides a good case to provoke a discussion of the nature of gene therapy.
- Why did the effect last only 8 or so day?
- What does this tell us about transcription factor TBX18?
- What benefit might this treatment have if developed for humans?
- This may add interest to an discussion of the function of the electrical system of the heart in general, and artificial pacemakers in particular.
- The case also provides a scenario in which the body attacks and destroys virus-infected cells.
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Want to know more?
Next Generation: Biological Pacemakers
- R Williams, The Scientist (the-scientist.com) July 16, 2014
- Plain-English article summarizing the discovery. Includes quotes from the researchers.
Biological pacemaker created by minimally invasive somatic reprogramming in pigs with complete heart block