BWAHAHAHAHA GMO virus to replace pacemakers

Im seriously, you guys.

ANY MEDICAL CONDITION YOU CAN THINK OF: There is a scientist, somewhere, trying to use viruses to treat/cure that condition.

The latest:

Direct conversion of quiescent cardiomyocytes to pacemaker cells by expression of Tbx18

Lots of people, either through age or genetic defect, need pacemakers.

Pacemakers, while functional, come with a list of difficulties-- from the insertion process to making sure the damn battery works, to all the bacteria that could hitch a ride on the pacemaker to cause all kinds of complications.

But we are kinda stuck.  I mean, we cant just make new pacemaker cells.  Right? ... Right?




[/evil scientist laugh]


Turns out that while many proteins differentiate a regular heart cell from a pacemaker cell, switching on the Tbx18 gene, a trascription factor, is enough to flip a regular cell into a pacemaker.  Any time a problem is as simple as delivering one gene, we have a useful tool at our disposal: viruses.  So scientists popped Tbx18 into an adenovirus (nice!).

Tbx18 into adenovirus. Adenovirus into smooth muscle cells. Smooth muscle cells into pacemaker cells!


The cells that got the GMO virus made Tbx18 and started to make the proteins pacemaker cells need, and stopped making smooth muscle proteins.  The treated cells started looking and acting like pacemaker cells!!

It works in tissue culture and in 5 out of 7 guinea pigs!

One day, hopefully soon, pacemakers will be archaic relics, and an injection of GMO viruses into your heart will keep it beating.


Oh, quick disclaimer-- one way Tbx18 works is that it leads to the epigenetic modification of the smooth muscle cells, which helps them transform.  Contrary to what woo-meisters say about epigenetics, this DOES NOT MEAN you can 'relax' more pacemaker cells into existence.  It does not mean you can grow more pacemaker cells by eating broccoli and doing yoga.

You have to jab a needle of GMO viruses into your heart.


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Good News, hear, hear. Gives me some hope for my continuing aging process :)
But still, nothing is wrong with eating Broccoli and doing Yoga (or different forms of exercise).

By wereatheist (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

If you use a virus to insert the required genetic material into heart cells, how are we to prevent the genetic material from being inserted into the wrong cells? You do not want foci of enhanced automaticity to develop in the ventricles, for example.

Jonathan-- I think they just injected the virus straight into the heart at about the right location :-/

They didnt look for evidence of insertion in, say, the liver-- But I would think that this only works because smooth muscle heart cells and pacemaker heart cells are related. Putting Tbx18 into, like, a B-cell probably wouldnt be enough to turn it into a pacemaker cell, but they also didnt look to see if that happened, or what bad things could happen if the virus got into the wrong cell.

"Adenoviruses were injected into the left ventricular apex of guinea pigs. [....] After lateral thoracotomy, a 30-gauge needle was inserted at the free wall apex of the left ventricle. "

So the adeno's were injected locally, which also means that you'd still have to cut open the patient.
But yet, I'd say that this method is not as invasive as placement of a pacemaker.

Wow, this is exciting. The paper and the table of results seemed to be only focusing on generating new SAN cells, would this technology also be able to create new ANV cells for people with 3rd degree AV block? (Suspiciously specific question is not in any way related to personal circumstance... no indeed.)