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    Jul 18, 2014

    Gene therapy offers new way to treat disease


    RESEARCHERS have succeeded in turning ordinary cardiac muscle cells into specialised ones that deliver a steady heartbeat, using a gene-therapy procedure.

    Published on Wednesday, the study involved pigs with a condition called heart block, which makes their hearts beat too slowly. By injecting a human gene into a tiny region of the heart's pumping chambers, roughly the size of a peppercorn, the researchers re-programmed heart muscle cells into a type of cell that emits electrical impulses to drive the beating heart.

    In doing so, cardiologists at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles created "biological pacemaker" cells that restored a normal heart rate in the pigs.

    "This development heralds a new era of gene therapy, where genes are used not only to correct a deficiency disorder, but actually to convert one type of cell into another to treat disease," said Eduardo Marban, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and leader of the research team.

    The researchers noted that pig hearts are very similar to human hearts.