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Breakthrough pacemaker continues to impress

Among the research grants announced by the Heart Foundation on World Heart Day last month was further support for the game-changing pacemaker under development by researchers at the University of Auckland.

Dr Julia Shanks was awarded a three-year Heart Foundation Fellowship and will undertake a pre-clinical assessment of a new pacemaker designed to vary heart rate in response to breathing.

“Most pacemakers make the heart beat at fixed intervals, but we know, for example, that a healthy heart beats faster with increased physical effort and exercise,” says Julia.

“Our research has already shown that using a pacemaker that mimics a healthy heart dramatically improves the heart function and structure in heart failure. We are now examining how it can improve the function of those already taking medication for heart failure. Together with how it might improve exercise ability and impact blood flow to muscles and the kidneys.”

Heart failure affects 80,000 people in New Zealand and has a high mortality rate. Around half of the deaths caused by the condition occur within four years of diagnosis. It can also significantly impact people’s quality of life, with symptoms including breathlessness, extreme fatigue, swelling and irregular heartbeats.

Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin says he is excited to see the continued development of this research. “There are no medications or treatments currently available to cure heart failure, but we continue to make advances in supporting people to maintain a good quality of life.”

“We have invested in several researchers associated with the development of this technology over recent years, and the Heart Foundation Scientific Advisory Group continue to be impressed by the progress of this work.”

“It’s a great example of New Zealand innovation and has the potential to truly transform lives not just in Aotearoa but around the world.”

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