Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand have developed a pacemaker that re-establishes a natural heart beat in patients with cardiovascular diseases.
According to the study, current pacemakers pace a heart metronomically which is at a steady and constant pace. The new pacemaker will sync with the patients breathing pattern so that the heart rate can go up and down, as a heart without any cardiovascular issues would usually do.
Research fellow at the University of Auckland Dr Julia Shanks said that “There’s nothing really on the market that will cure heart failure. All the drugs will do is make you feel better. They don’t address the issue that you’ve got damaged tissue that’s not contracting as efficiently as it was. Our new pacemaker brings back this variability, which of course is natural, in a way you could call it ‘nature’s pacemaker’.”
Lead researcher and director of Manaaki Manawa Centre for Heart Research at the University of Auckland Professor Julian Paton talked to NewsCop about the benefits of the bionic pacemaker would bring to patients.
“Lots of good things [would happen] like being able to make a cup of tea or get up the stairs without feeling breathless and exhausted,” he said.
“[Also] improvement in the quality of life, reduction in sleep apnoea’s, extension of life longevity, being able to perform more exercise, which will further improve health.”
Professor Paton also went on to say that there wouldn’t be a need to change the pacemaker battery as the “new pacemaker’s batteries will last the patient’s life”. While the human trial will start towards the end of the year, Professor Paton has been investigating the function of the variability for over 12 years and said that there were quite a lot of setbacks.
“The main setbacks include making the electronics work perfectly because the timing of pacing with the breathing cycle (inhalation vs exhalation) must be precise to get the natural variability,” he said.
“[Others included] persuading funders and venture capitalists that we were onto something really big with potential global impact,”
“[Also] Keeping our students and post-doctorates motivated and enthused to keep up their good work despite a long time without results; of course, they are now fully rewarded and very excited at what they have found,”
He went on to say that one of the biggest hurdles was waiting for something to happen.
“To our initial disappointment, once we started to pace with variability correctly, nothing happened,” he said.
“By chance, we waited 3 days and only then did we see the response (improvement in heart pumping) starting to develop.
“This increase in heart pumping grew and grew over the next 4 days and then plateaued off.
“It would have been so easy to have thrown in the towel early on and missed the response [but] persistence paid off!”
The hard work was rewarded with Professor Paton saying that if the human-trials go as well as the sheep trial in which there was 20 per cent increase in heart pump output then it could revolutionise heart failure and re-synchronisation therapy. Ceryx Medical will be funding the first-in-human trial which is set to trial 80 patients, with half receiving the new pacemaker which is synchronised to breathing and the other half receiving a conventional metronomic pacemaker.
Professor Paton said that it would be the “first time anyone has tried to re-instate the natural variability to a heart that has lost it because of heart disease” with the trial being performed by Dr Martin Stiles at the Waikato Hospital in Hamilton, New Zealand.