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Bionic pacemaker slows
progression of heart failure

Using brain circuits made in silicon, scientists have alleviated symptoms of heart failure by reinstating the body’s natural heart rhythm. This study published today in The Journal of Physiology holds great potential for designing more effective pacemakers in the future.

After such an event, pacemakers are often fitted to either speed up the heart or to overcome electrical conduction problems between different chambers of the heart. There is no cure for heart failure; its progression is only slowed by current medication.

The heartbeat is never constant; it varies with every breath. It speeds up when you inhale and slows down when you exhale. This difference in heart rate is known as respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Researchers at the Universities of Bath and Bristol have adopted this arrhythmia in a novel bionic pacemaker and applied it to a heart in heart failure. They found that this new form of heart pacing dramatically increases the efficiency of the heart. Normally, pacemakers don’t listen to signals from our bodies; they simply pace the heart at a monotonous, regular rate. These researchers, however, built a pacemaker that read the body’s own breathing signals to speed up and slow down the heart every breath.

Professor Paton, senior author on the study, remarked: “Our findings give hope for heart failure patients and may revolutionize the future design of cardiac pacemakers. Our next step in the research is to find out if respiratory sinus arrhythmia can reverse heart failure in human patients, as it has done in rats.” (PR)

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