New pacemaker a ‘game changer’ for heart failure treatment

Heart Foundation funded research is investigating the benefits of a newly developed pacemaker that could potentially reverse the decline of failing hearts.

Dr David CrossmanDr David Crossman to investigate pacemaker’s benefits

A new type of pacemaker which mimics heart rate patterns prominent in elite athletes could be a ‘game changer’ for people with heart failure, a chronic condition which occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood around the body.

A team of University of Auckland (UoA) researchers led by Professor Julian Paton and Dr Rohit Ramchandra are developing the pacemaker, which can potentially reverse the decline in function in the failing heart.

Unlike current cardiac pacemakers which pace the heart at regular intervals, this new device modulates heart rate in response to breathing. This natural variability is lost in many people with cardiac diseases.

The project has to date been funded by the Health Research Council and Ceryx Medical. Now the Heart Foundation is funding fellow UoA researcher Dr David Crossman to use a new state-of-the-art microscope to investigate which heart muscle cells the pacemaker acts on.

“I’ll be using a new super resolution microscope, known as a STED microscope, to get a high resolution feel for what’s going on,” explains David. 

New insight into how pacemaker works

In particular, he’s investigating parts of the cell, known as t-tubules, which play an important role in triggering the beating of the heart. These may be damaged in heart failure.

“This will give new insight into how this pacemaker works and hopefully aid the development of treatments to reverse the decline in heart muscle function which occurs in heart failure,” he adds.

Heart Foundation Medical Director Associate Professor Gerry Devlin believes the new device could be a game changer for people living with heart failure.

“This is novel and world-leading research, with the project likely to advance the understanding of heart microstructure in heart failure, as well as contribute further evidence to support this approach to pacing.”

Heart failure has a high mortality rate, with 50% of people dying as a result of the condition within four years of diagnosis. It also has a significant impact on a person’s quality of life, with symptoms including breathlessness, extreme fatigue, swelling and irregular heartbeats.

“I’ve always been interested in the heart, but also my own father had a pacemaker for nearly thirty years, and it definitely extended his life. So I really understand the need for it,” David adds.

“If we can actually improve the heart’s pumping ability, we’re going to make a massive impact in terms of people’s quality of life.”

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