ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) — A team of researchers has developed the first pacemaker small enough to implant in an unborn baby’s heart, potentially offering an effective treatment for congenital heart blocks.
Though doctors can diagnose congenital heart blocks in utero, they’ve lacked an effective solution. Cardiologists have attempted to treat the defect with a modified adult pacemaker. They implanted part of the device in the baby’s heart while the rest of the device remained external. But the method continually failed, likely because babies’ movements would dislodge the pacemaker’s electrodes. The new device’s size eliminates that problem.
The researchers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and the University of Southern California (USC) estimate the technology could aid up to 500 babies each year.
“This novel device provides a real opportunity to prevent miscarriage and premature birth in babies affected with these abnormalities,” Ramen H. Chmait, director of the CHLA-USC Institute for Maternal-Fetal Health, said.
Experts estimate congenital heart blocks occur in 1 out of 10,000 babies. In a healthy heart, an electrical signal moves between the upper and lower heart chambers causing the heart to contract and pump blood. But if a baby has a congenital heart block, the signal is interrupted and the baby’s heart rate slows.
The device has passed preclinical testing and optimization. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved it for use in humans, the journal Heart Rhythm reported. The research team expects the pacemaker will be implanted in an unborn baby soon.