When the sinus node (the node in the heart that regulates the pace at which our heart beats) encounters a problem and starts to function incorrectly, it places our lives in great danger. In 1932, an American physiologist, Albert Hyman, created an ‘electro mechanical instrument’ that he called an artificial pacemaker. Over the years, that technology has been perfected to surgically implant a pacemaker that regulates the heart rate and keeps the heart functioning safely. According to an article by Medical News Today, around 300,000 patients receive artificial pacemaker implants every year in America alone. Worldwide, that number is over 600,000 with over three million people already implanted.
With better access to healthcare and more governments stepping in to support their citizens in healthcare payments, the pacemaker industry is growing at a steady pace. Pacemakers are usually priced anywhere from $20,000 to $45,000 and cost more to implant them via a complex surgery. That being said, the global artificial pacemaker industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and the supply chain of a pacemaker encompasses hundreds of companies from around the world. However, a new breakthrough by cardiologists from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, CA may change the industry forever – and over a million hearts as well. The team surgically implanted a biological gene into the hearts of pigs with heart block only to discover the next day that the pigs had significantly higher heart beat rates.
While human trials are still three to five years away and there exists the possibility that this may never work safely in humans, it is still a significant threat to artificial pacemakers as the implanted gene is a ‘biological’ artificial pacemaker and the biological pacemakers are likely to come under immense scrutiny by the big players in the artificial pacemaker industry. One can only wait and see what will come of these pacemakers and the impact they will have on saving human lives, but for now, taking an optimistic stance is not a bad idea.