UH Moment

UH Moment: Developing Next-Generation Biologic Pacemakers

“This is a living growing cell that will be in the heart.”

A researcher from the University of Houston is developing the next generation of pacemakers that come from the human body. Associate professor of pharmacology Bradley McConnell is using stem cells found in fat, converting them to heart cells and reprogramming those into biological pacemaker cells that control abnormal heart rhythm.

“This is a living growing cell that will be in the heart. It is not a foreign object so it will be able to amend itself to the dynamics of the body,” McConnell said.

Current pacemakers require surgery and use a battery, which over time can stop working properly. The biological pacemaker cell would be injected into the heart to regulate the heartbeat, a major breakthrough according to collaborator Robert Schwartz, the Hugh Roy and Lillian Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of biology and biochemistry at UH.

“The ability to repair a variety of diseases becomes a really important achievement,” Schwartz said. 

McConnell and Schwartz hope the development of a biological pacemaker is just the first step towards a much larger goal.

“Starting from the pacemaker cell which is a key system, we might be able to one day generate an artificial heart,” Schwartz said. 

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