- Researchers have successfully used a gene therapy procedure to turn ordinary cardiac muscle cells in pigs into specialised ones that deliver a steady heartbeat.
- Health industry workers and academics are working on a national approach to the growing phenomenon of e-cigarettes, with some concerned they are not as harmless as widely believed.
- The Medical Board of Australia has proposed to suspend the medical registration of voluntary euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke.
News on Health Professional Radio. Today is the 18th July 2014. Read by Rebecca Foster.
Researchers have successfully used a gene therapy procedure to turn ordinary cardiac muscle cells in pigs into specialised ones that deliver a steady heartbeat.
The therapy could become an alternative to implanted electronic pacemakers in the future, they report AS REPORTED in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
“We have, for the first time, been able to create a biological pacemaker using minimally invasive methods and show that the biological pacemaker supports the demands of daily life,” says study co-author Dr Eduardo Marbán, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.
The research involved pigs with a condition called heart block that makes their hearts beat too slowly.
By injecting a human gene into a tiny region of the heart’s pumping chambers roughly the size of a peppercorn, the researchers reprogrammed heart muscle cells into a type of cell that emits electrical impulses to drive the beating heart, restoring the pigs’ heart rate to normal.
The procedure achieved the same result as implanting an electronic pacemaker that sends electrical pulses to the heart if it beats too slowly or skips a beat.
“This development heralds a new era of gene therapy where genes are used not only to correct a deficiency disorder but actually to convert one type of cell into another to treat disease,” says Marbán.
The technique, which the team has previously studied in rats, is the culmination of a dozen years of research.
While not as precise as the previous rat studies, pig hearts are very similar to human hearts and allow the researchers to study the overall safety and functional efficacy of the technique.
The researchers envision using the procedure initially to help people with heart rhythm disorders who cannot use a pacemaker because of device-related complications like an infection or in fetuses in the womb with congenital heart block.
Such fetuses cannot have a pacemaker implanted and risk severe heart failure often resulting in stillbirth. The researchers hope to develop an injection-based treatment to deliver the gene therapy to these developing babies.
In the future, the procedure might be used in a broader patient population as a realistic alternative to the pacemaker, say the researchers.
Health industry workers and academics are working on a national approach to the growing phenomenon of e-cigarettes, with some concerned they are not as harmless as widely believed.
E-cigarettes are vaporisers through which liquid nicotine can be ingested and are sometimes promoted as less harmful than smoking.
At talks held in Melbourne on Wednesday by government-funded VicHealth, speakers warned of the unregulated industry overseas which is pitched at young people.
The meeting also discussed the possible long-term side effects of using e-cigarettes or vaping – turning liquid into a mist and inhaling it through an e-cigarette.
E-cigarettes that contain nicotine are promoted as less harmful than smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes, but health experts disagree about how dangerous this new fad is.
So new are e-cigarettes to the market that research into their long-term health effects does not exist.
It is a growing industry; some estimates expect the global e-cigarette industry will reach $23 billion within a decade.
The Medical Board of Australia has proposed to suspend the medical registration of voluntary euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke.
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, which provides support to the Medical Board of Australia, launched an investigation into Dr Nitschke following reporting by the ABC.
Dr Nitschke admits he supported Perth man Nigel Brayley in his decision to commit suicide despite knowing he was not terminally ill and was only 45 years old.
Mental health groups Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute believe Dr Nitschke had an obligation to recommended psychiatric help to Mr Brayley, but Dr Nitschke says it was not his role to intervene.
In a statement, the Medical Board of Australia says it has contacted Dr Nitschke.
The Medical Board says Dr Nitschke will have the opportunity to present his case.
Dr Nitschke is still registered as a medical practitioner and his registration is up for renewal in September.
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