Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Heart Disease Health Center

Font Size

Biologic Pacemaker Reprograms Heart

Genetic Alternative May Replace Electronic Pacemakers

WebMD Health News


Sept. 12, 2002 -- Imagine a pacemaker that uses your own genes, rather than electricity, to recharge your ailing heart. Researchers say they've created the first "biologic" pacemaker that can do just that.

Their study, published in the Sept. 12 issue of Nature, shows the biologic pacemaker works in animal tests by using gene therapy to convert heart muscle cells into specialized "pacing" cells that can restore the heart's natural rhythm.

"We can now envision a day when it will be possible to recreate an individual's pacemaker cells or develop hybrid pacemakers -- part electronic and part biologic," says researcher Eduardo Marban, MD, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Institute of Molecular Cardiology, in a news release.

The researchers say that in early embryonic development, every heart cell has pacemaker-like activity within it. As the cells mature, they become specialized to perform different functions.

A small number of these heart cells eventually become pacemaker cells responsible for "firing" the other cells into action and maintaining the heart's electrical and pumping action.

Most other heart cells contain a potassium channel that makes it harder for them to "fire" and generate electricity on their own. This makes them dependent on the pacemaker cells. When these pacemaker cells become damaged, a man-made electronic pacemaker must be implanted to restore the heart's rhythm.

According to the researchers, about 250,000 of these electronic pacemakers are implanted each year in the U.S.

But in initial tests in guinea pigs, researchers found that genetically blocking the potassium channel in the non-pacemaker heart cells allowed these cells to reconnect with their pacemaker past.

"When this [potassium] channel is blocked, heart muscle cells that normally have to wait for stimulation begin to beat on their own," says Marban.

Researchers say they believe the same principles should also apply to humans, and "biopacemakers" may eventually provide an important new option for people who are not good candidates for traditional, electronic pacemakers.

Today on WebMD

x-ray of human heart
A visual guide.
atrial fibrillation
Symptoms and causes.
heart rate graph
10 things to never do.
heart rate
Get the facts.
empty football helmet
red wine
eating blueberries
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Inside A Heart Attack
Omega 3 Sources
Salt Shockers
lowering blood pressure